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Local Citizens Rally For Area’s Seniors
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Volunteers sort through the many donations to help provide food for local senior citizens. Photo Contributed

Like many others in the 95361, Oakdale Recreation Service Coordinator Jane Finkenbine has had to get creative over the past few weeks.

While the coordinator shared her job entails a number of tasks and responsibilities for the City of Oakdale, it is her role and involvement with the Gladys Lemmons Senior Center which is currently at the top of her list.

One of the many services offered to seniors through the Senior Center are daily lunches in the main hall of the East A street location. But last Monday, March 16, was the last day lunches were served in the dining hall as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

As news traveled and circumstances changed, Finkenbine shared she received a number of phone calls from seniors facing “food insecurity.”

“Really worried how they were going to get out. Not just that they were over 65 but also, transportation,” she said of her clientele’s concerns. “Many of them would take the Start bus, worried about taking the bus with others.”

Prior to the mandated “Shelter-in-Place” ordered by Governor Newsom, the center was able to offer drive up service for lunches, as well as pantry items. The creation of the pantry came as a result of her concern for the seniors and what might be in their future. Via The City of Oakdale Recreation Facebook page, a request for donations was put out to the community.

Finkenbine said that she quickly became overwhelmed by the response and the number of people dropping off items within an hour of the social media post. By mid-afternoon she had tables of canned goods, word search books and other necessities.

Not only did donations come, but so too did volunteers. Due to exercised caution of COVID-19, no one over age 60 is currently allowed in the Senior Center building.

“The cutest little boy got out of his truck with his parents and had a giant bag of oranges. He carried them in,” she said of one of the donations brought for the food pantry.

Finkenbine stated that all items are wiped down and sanitized before being delivered to seniors. She also noted that while the pantry program is targeted for seniors in need, monetary donations are discouraged at this time and pantry items are preferred to help stock the shelves. Primary reason for this, she said, is the attempt to try and stay out of grocery stores and public spaces as much as possible.

In addition to the pantry program, the senior meals team is now able to deliver five frozen lunches per week to a total of 50 seniors.

“When we fill up all of that, we’ll go back to our food pantry and get out soup and bread, eggs, juice,” she said, noting they are currently at capacity for the lunch delivery recipients. “It’s just amazing all the stuff that we have.”

Yet they can still use more.

“We are delivering to anyone who needs a box. We can get out to seniors,” she said.

The preference for item donations currently is pre-packaged, factory sealed donations only, nothing beyond an expiration date and no homemade goods.

While prior to last week, many of the donations were being dropped by the senior center, Finkenbine said she is not opposed to picking up items as well.

“With the shelter at home, I’m more than happy to pick up donations,” she said.

Currently the most requested items from seniors have been eggs and whole milk, preferably in smaller containers due to the slow rate of consumption. Other items such as small boxes of cereal, small fruit cups and the like are also appreciated. They are currently well stocked on canned soup.

“There have been a couple of times that I’ve sat in my office and cried,” she admitted. “My heart is breaking, but when I go home at the end of the day, I feel like I’ve done something to make a difference.”

And while there may be moments of heartbreak, there have equally been moments of inspiration as the 95361 rallies to help those not only in need but confined for the safety of their heath.

“I have never lived in a community like this where everyone pitches in,” she shared. “Everyone is just, what do you need. I can do it.”

“I hope the community recognizes that,” she added of the uniqueness, spirit and attitude. “I go home grateful, tired and impressed.”

Seniors with needs from the pantry items or community members interested in helping by making donations may do so by contacting Finkenbine through messenger at the City of Oakdale Recreation page or the senior center main number, (209) 845-3566.