CARES grant to aid Ocean County's senior citizens

MORE THAN 100,000 additional home-delivered meals are just one benefit of a $1.5 million federal CARES grant to aid Ocean County's senior citizens during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari said.

The money will also help fund a variety of other services, ranging from caregiver support to transportation. All of the programs are administered by the Ocean County Office of Senior Services.

The money, which has already been distributed through adjustments to 28 contracts between the county and numerous service providers, will offer an additional layer of protection to seniors still dealing with COVID-19, Vicari said.

"The ongoing pandemic has been devastating to our senior communities," said Vicari, liaison to the Office of Senior Services. "Besides the physical threat of contracting the illness, many of our seniors have been dealing with stress and other psychological issues, including loneliness."

About $904,000 from the grant will go to home-delivered meal services.

From April 1 to Aug. 31, about 150,000 home delivered meals or emergency shelf stable meals were provided to seniors in Ocean County, an increase of almost 40,000 from the same period in 2019.

"We saw a 30 percent increase in meals delivered and a 50 percent increase in new clients from 2019," Vicari said. "This grant will allow us to deliver an additional 100,000 meals."

Another $366,000 is earmarked for a variety of community support services.

These include $75,000 for the newly created Food Shopping Program with Jersey Cares, which shops for food and delivers it to a senior's home.

A portion of the money will also pay for upgrades to local senior centers, including laptop computers and protective Plexiglas and barriers to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"Many of the providers were not prepared for this type of disaster," said Maria La Face, director of the Office of Senior Services. "They did not have laptops or cell phones to work offsite and needed these funds to make the changes necessary to serve seniors during the pandemic."

Money was also awarded to Community Health Law Project to assist seniors facing pandemic-related evictions or foreclosures.

Additional dollars were awarded to Catholic Charities Fix it Program that provides home modification services to seniors and the Ocean County Board of Social Services for their senior transportation program, La Face said.

About $189,799 is distributed to 14 providers to increase/enhance services for caregivers of the elderly.

"We have seen a significant increase in requests for assistance from Caregivers over the course of this pandemic," Vicari said. "Adult children who may not have seen their parents as frequently before COVID, were forced to help them more during the pandemic because home health aides, adult day cares and other services could no longer assist clients."

La Face agreed, saying her department was "bombarded" with calls from stressed out family members who needed a break from their caregiving responsibilities.

"This got worse once things started opening up and the caregivers had to go back to work but the traditional support providers like home health aides or adult day cares remained closed," she said.

Funding will be used to handle the increased demand for information and assistance from caregivers and to modify facilities, upgrade technology, purchase barriers, PPE and cleaning supplies, she said.

Vicari stressed that since day one of the pandemic, the Office of Senior Services has worked tirelessly to assist the county's most vulnerable residents.

"Maria La Face and her entire staff have done an outstanding job in meeting the needs of our senior communities during this crisis," Vicari said. "They've put in long hours and have gone above and beyond to help ensure that our parents, grandparents and neighbors are safe during these unprecedented times."