It has been a long pandemic for Bakersfield’s seniors, who have struggled through quarantine isolation even after most of society began to gather together. But on Thursday, a few of those seniors regained a semblance of community and normalcy at the Share The Love Thanksgiving Dinner hosted at the Bakersfield Senior Center.
Just the second large event held by the center since COVID-19 sent its members into isolation, the Thanksgiving Dinner was also the first time many of the members had seen each other in more than a year.
“It really has been hectic,” said Senior Center Executive Director Lilli Parker, noting that some seniors exhibited mental and physical decline during their isolation. “It’s been a learning experience and it pushed me to do wellness checkups because we really had no way of communicating with them.”
The Bakersfield Senior Center provides health and wellness services to underserved seniors and veterans, along with social activities like cardio workouts. On Thursday, those gathered in the cafeteria were treated to the dance moves of 60- and 70-year-olds before being served their Thanksgiving meal.
Parker personally welcomed each member back to the center, shouting their name to the applause of the rest of the guests.
“This is the nucleus of trying not to have people feeling like nobody cares about them and that they are alone,” said center member and volunteer Cora Capers.
Capers has participated in a cardio workout group that met for a time outside during the pandemic to ensure social distancing. She said she has lost a lot of friends and relatives to the quarantine, some who remain isolated in their homes.
“A lot of seniors live alone or live in a facility,” she added. “So this is really a thriving way of socializing and seeing old friends.”
A home-cooked meal with ham, turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie was served to around 140 participants, some of whom received their food via a drive-thru. The dinner helped raise funds for the county’s Meals on Wheels program, in which the Senior Center participates.
As part of its Share The Love promotion, volunteers from Sangera Suburu of Bakersfield helped pass out meals on Thursday. As part of the promotion, Subaru will donate $250 to the purchaser’s choice of charities for every car sold from Thursday through Jan. 3. One of the options is Meals on Wheels.
“I just think it’s great to lend a helping hand to the elderly people who maybe go without,” said Subaru salesman Trenton Lee. “It’s just a great experience all around.”
For Parker, Thursday’s event was about letting the seniors “get their anxiety out,” and begin to reintegrate into group settings. The pandemic may not be over, and social distancing and masks were still in place, but with about 75 percent of all seniors vaccinated, the center feels confident about returning to more normal activities.
“I’m a senior, too, and going places for me has been limited, too,” Parker said. “We’ve got to let (the seniors) know, ‘Hey, we are here. We may do things a little slower, but we are here.’”