AARP Eye Center
Alexandria, Virginia, is a great place to be an older adult, thanks to the wide range of programs offered by Senior Services of Alexandria (SSA). This nonprofit organization helps older adults to age with dignity by fostering independence and self-sufficiency.
The organization’s wide array of services include home-delivered meals and groceries, friendly visitors, food for the pets of low-income seniors, educational outreach and more.
Importantly, nearly 2,500 meals are delivered every week to help keep older adults safe in their homes. SSA delivers a hot meal and a cold meal every day of the year to homebound individuals or those who have difficulty preparing food through the Meals on Wheels program, in partnership with the City of Alexandria. Some 350 volunteer drivers provide this life-sustaining service. Although the number of drivers dropped in 2020 during the pandemic, an especially dedicated core group of 45 volunteers and some city employees made sure no recipient missed a meal.
Senior Services of Alexandria also helped arrange for Meals on Wheels recipients to get their Covid-19 vaccinations, in cooperation with Alexandria’s health department. “Every week we would learn when local Safeway stores were giving vaccines, then proactively contact all of our clients,” Mary Lee Anderson, executive director of SSA explained. “For those who were not able to get to the store on their own, the city’s Division of Aging and Adult Services allocated funds so we could arrange taxi service both ways. The city has been terrific in ensuring that older adults are protected from the pandemic.”
The Friendly Visitor Program, through which volunteers visit, call or write an isolated older adult, was an outgrowth of Meals on Wheels. “Many of the volunteers who dropped off meals were frustrated that they couldn’t enjoy more meaningful conversations with food recipients, because the drivers had to stay on their delivery schedule,” explained Anderson. “To help volunteers make a more meaningful connection, we created Friendly Visitors.”
AARP Virginia helped get the program off the ground about six years ago by sending a flyer inviting members to volunteer. “The response was really positive, so we were able to ramp up the program quickly,” Anderson said. Due to the pandemic, instead of in-person meetings, Friendly Visitors volunteers spend about an hour a week on the phone or a Zoom call with clients or mail notes to stay in touch. Anderson noted, “We try to match seniors with volunteers who have similar interests, whether it’s football or books.”
Companionship of pets is also vitally important to older adults’ wellbeing. Through SSA’s unique “AniMeals” program, low-income seniors who are eligible can have food for cats, dogs or birds delivered to their residence once a month at no cost. SSA provides the volunteer drivers, while the Alexandria Animal Welfare League provides the food.
“You don’t want a senior to have to choose between feeding their animal and buying their own food or medications,” said Anderson. “Our AniMeals program is designed to take that worry away so they can enjoy the love that pets provide.”
Another way to help older adults live comfortably is through home delivery of groceries. Volunteers with SSA’s Groceries to Go program shop at Giant or Safeway stores on behalf of residents older than 60 who have limited mobility, then deliver the items to their front door. “Choosing the food you enjoy eating or even the toothpaste you prefer is a big part of being healthy, independent and secure,” Anderson said.
Transportation services that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act are available for Alexandria residents who are unable to use public transportation. SSA reservation assistants schedule rides for clients in coordination with the City of Alexandria and two taxi providers. The flat one-way fares for curb-to-curb services range from $4.00 to $6.00. This DOT Para-Transit Service provides more than 50,000 rides each year.
Older adults stay connected to the community through SSA’s education and outreach efforts. Each week via email, the “SSA Connection” newsletter offers interesting and entertaining features such as TED Talks, recipes, exercises and news of local events. The monthly SSA speaker series connects the community with information.
In addition, nearly 100 “senior ambassadors” with SSA share news and information with others in the community. SSA provides timely information that the ambassadors share with faith groups, civic groups and neighbors. Topics range from voting procedures to Medicare enrollment to coping with Parkinson’s disease.
AARP Virginia was a proud sponsor of SSA’s 2021 Oktoberfest fundraiser, which was held virtually due to the pandemic. “Our financial support will help grow important programs such as Meals on Wheels, Friendly Visitors, AniMeals and Groceries on the Go,” said Amber Sultane, AARP Virginia’s associate state director for community outreach in Northern Virginia.
To sustain and expand SSA’s vibrant programs, additional volunteers are always welcome, as are donations of all sizes.
Senior Services of Alexandria provides services and information to individuals aged 60 years and older who reside in the City of Alexandria. ZIP codes include 22301, 22302, 22304, 22305, 22311 and 22314.
Senior Services of Alexandria is located at 206 North Washington Street, Suite 301, in Alexandria, VA. Contact them by phone (703-836-4414) or check out its website (https://seniorservicesalex.org) and Facebook page.