Through the Harpswell Aging at Home program, older residents such as Susan Bates, at left, have benefited from grocery delivery service from people like Lili Ott, co-chair of the organization. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

HARPSWELL — A self-proclaimed “do-er person,” Susan Bates found being stuck inside at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic a bit difficult.

“I’m not used to being in,” said Bates, a septuagenarian who moved to Harpswell in 2006. “There was no place to go … it’s a real change.”

Having recently broken her foot and being unable to drive could have further reinforced a feeling of isolation. But Harpswell Aging at Home has made sure she’s not going it alone.

With “Making Harpswell Home for a Lifetime” as its motto, the community volunteer-led group aims to help its senior population thrive while staying in their own houses. Free food, transportation and home repairs are among the services the organization has offered the past few years.

Looking to better understand older residents’ needs and see how well it’s meeting those needs, Aging at Home has launched a questionnaire at surveymonkey.com/r/2020hahsurvey. The group wants to know “how much impact (this program) has had; are people aware of Harpswell Aging at Home, and how much has it affected their life,” Ott said.

Harpswell – which as of the 2010 census had more than 4,700 residents – is the oldest town in Maine with a median age of 56.9, and more than one-third of residents lack the resources to cover basic expenses, according to data presented by Aging at Home in a 2016 community assessment. Harpswell had 5.7% of residents with income below poverty level in 2017, compared with 11.1% across the entire state, according to city-data.com.

Activities such as the Aging at Home’s Lunch with Friends free weekly program served to bring seniors together in an engaging environment. COVID-19 forced the group to switch to “Meals-to-Go,” a take-out lunch model. Surrey Hardcastle, chairwoman of HAH’s food team, and nearly 100 volunteers prepared and sent out about 5,500 meals to more than 2,000 people, among them Bates.

“I am really grateful and appreciative for the program, and all the generous and giving volunteers that they have,” said Bates, who has also benefited from grocery deliveries and transportation to medical appointments. “I do have peace of mind knowing that I have somewhere to call, that I can get a resolution to a problem, or they can send me in the right direction to take care of my needs.”

For her work, Hardcastle is due this month to receive a 2020 Trailblazing Award from the Maine Council on Aging. Meals-to-Go, which since June has changed to a “Meals in a Pinch” model, was just as much about fellowship as it is food, according to HAH co-chairwoman Lili Ott.

“(I)t also is companionship as the drivers, even though they followed (Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention) guidelines, often said hello and had an outdoor chat with the recipients and often the food bag had some special goodies, like candy or a new mask, that people loved and provided a treat, not just essential food,” according to Ott.

A volunteer also calls Bates twice a week. Thirteen of them call 25 seniors, and both sets of numbers have risen, with more volunteers having greater time on their hands, “and more housebound people who looked forward to a friendly phone call and a chance to just chat,” Ott said.

Log onto hah.community, email [email protected], or call 833-5771 for more information.

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