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Sizeable grant ensures services for senior citizens this year

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

SOUTHWICK Dining and transportation services provided by the Council on Aging will continue next year at no cost to taxpayers thanks in large part to a sizeable Caring Community Build Grant.

Highland Valley Elder Services Inc., an Area Agency on Aging representing the needs of 24 communities in Hampshire and Hampden counties recently disbursed over $250,000 of federal and state funds to 35 agencies for use during the upcoming year.

Caring Communities eligible for grant monies are defined as those who identify and ensure the caring of their elders as well as facilitate solutions to increasing needs.

Having received this grant of over $16,000 for the past 20 years, Jeanne Margarites, director of the Southwick Council on Aging, said it is their "most important grant" because it encompasses almost all of the operating costs for the dining services, home meal deliveries, wellness checks and transportation year round.

"We are very pleased that Highland Valley keeps us on their top priority list," she said. "They've always been so kind to us because we've always shown a need."

Margarites said over 25 meals are served at the center daily and 50 meals are also delivered to the elderly through their outreach program. She noted the importance of personal contact with these people on a daily basis to ensure their mental and physical wellbeing. She said most often those delivering the meals are the only people the recipients will see all day.

John Lutz, associate director of Community Development for Highland Valley Elder Services Inc., said the continued operation and recognition of the work of the Southwick Council on Aging is vital to meeting the needs of the growing elder population.

Unfortunately, however, Lutz said that this year has demonstrated a growing need for funds by numerous organizations throughout Hampshire and Hampden counties. Overall he said there were twice as many requests for grant assistance than money to distribute.

Margarites said she is mostly concerned about those in Southwick not taking advantage of the Senior Center. She noted that of the approximately 1,700 senior citizens within the community only about half utilize the facility.

Margarites noted that the largest hurdle for the Council on Aging is the deployment of vehicles and drivers for the transportation of seniors. She said social contact for the elderly within this "desolate" community is paramount. Margarites added that she encourages all seniors to take advantage of the services and activities provided by the council, especially the upcoming baby boomer population.

For more information on the services provided by the Council on Aging call the Senior Center at 569-0410.