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Organizations work to keep county’s seniors happy, independent

Norah Collins places cookies into bags at St. Peter's Anglican Church for Meals on Wheels recently. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle

According to Data USA, in 2020, the median age of the nearly 188,000 people living in Butler County was 43.4 years, with the median age getting older each passing year.

A number of organizations are working to keep the county’s senior citizens independent and in their homes as long as possible.

Beth Herold, who has been executive director of the Area Agency on Aging for 11 years, said her agency’s 33 employees aid or have contact with 8,000 to 10,000 seniors in the county annually.

Herold said some of the contact may be fleeting, for instance, the time it takes to pick up a voucher for the farmers’ market program, to dropping by of one of the seven senior centers run by the agency for a meal or a card game.

Herold said her agency provides many programs and services to enrich the lives of county residents who are 60 or older.

For instance, she said, the agency runs a rent rebate program where qualified persons can get money back from their rent payments.

Herold said her agency sends an ombudsman to each of the county’s 43 eldercare establishments at least once a month to listen to complaints from residents.

“We do quite a lot of conflict resolution: Roommates don’t get along; residents have complaints about the facility. We try to get them settled,” said Herold.

The agency also offers free insurance counseling for those trying to work their way through the maze of choosing Medicare options.

Herold said, “Phone calls and visits go up during any open-enrollment period.”

The agency also offers a program where grandparents can apply to be reimbursed for the cost of raising their grandchildren.

Herold said the agency also offers a caregiver respite program where employees will watch their charges while the parents can get out of the house for a break in their responsibilities.

She said the agency also will deliver five to seven frozen meals once a week to a home. She emphasized this is not Meals on Wheels, which is a separate group. She estimated that during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, this program was servicing 600 clients weekly, but now, the program was delivering a week’s worth of meals to 360 people.

Seniors also can get a meal — either eat-in or grab-and-go — at the senior centers the agency runs in the county. Herold said some of the centers have reduced hours and days of operation.

“Limited days and hours are due to staffing problems. It’s really hard to get workers,” she said.

But when the centers are open, she said, visitors can get more than a meal. The centers offer exercise classes, craft sessions and a place for older people to socialize over card games and bingo.

“We arrange trips. The fall foliage bus trip is completely booked. We’ve taken trips to Pirates games and Erie,” Herold said.

The agency also provides a service where employees will check on seniors’ well-being and provide bathing hygiene and house cleaning services in order to keep people in their own homes longer.

“I think we work with the human service network — drug and alcohol, mental health, housing and youth services — in the county. We all work together to support individuals, and you don’t see that in a lot of counties,” Herold said.

Meals on Wheels

Mary Pataky, program director for Butler’s Meals on Wheels, said her organization has been providing hot meals to the homebound for 53 years.

Meals are prepared in the kitchen of St. Peter’s Anglican Church in downtown Butler. For a small charge, each client receives two meals (one hot, one cold), which are delivered Monday through Friday, except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Each day, at about 11a.m., 24 volunteers go out in pairs (a driver and a deliverer) on 12 routes and deliver a hot, fresh meal and a bag lunch for supper for more than 100 clients.

Pataky said the meal delivery provides a personal outreach to shut-ins on a daily basis.

“We have 200 volunteers, drivers and preparers, and we use 150 per week,” she said. “We have substitute volunteers that fill in when people go on vacation. And we have a lot of snowbirds that head south for the winter.”

Meals have been prepared at St. Peter’s every day for the last 40 years. The cook arrives at 8 a.m. and volunteers arrive at 9 a.m. to begin packing meals for delivery throughout an 8-mile radius of Butler.

“The meals are prepared daily so they are always receiving fresh food,” Pataky said.

She said each month an area church takes turns making baked goods for the meals.

Pataky said Butler Meals on Wheels receives no government funding, relying on donations, grants and the occasional gifts of food from other groups such as St. Vincent de Paul Society.

“We ask for a fee of 45% of the cost of the meal, but no one is ever turned away,” she said.

There is no age or income restriction on receiving a Meals on Wheels meal, just that someone is homebound for medical or age reasons and finds it difficult or impossible to cook a meal for themselves.

“We consider this a very vital service,” said Pataky. “This way, an aging individual can maintain their independence by staying in their home.

“The Butler County community has always supported us over the years. We couldn’t do it without their support and the support of our volunteers,” she said.

Those wanting to volunteer for the Meals on Wheels program should call volunteer coordinator Natalie Wall at 724-285-9573.

Those seeking to receive the Meals on Wheels service should call Pataky at 724-285-3815.

Food also is a major part of the summer and Oktoberfest festivals staged annually at Concordia Lutheran Ministries’ Concordia at Cabot location in Jefferson Township.

Connor Hagey, director of retirement living at Concordia at Cabot, said the festivals are just one of “any number of things that we do for the larger community.”

There are visits by musicians and musical acts to all the location’s buildings, as well as educational classes available to both residents and the public at large.

“Some of the classes cover mail fraud and phone fraud that are vital to senior citizens,” said Hagey.

He also mentioned the annual living Nativity that takes place at Concordia at Cabot.

“The summer festival has food and music, but there is a worship aspect to it,” said Hagey.

“We’re a Christian organization that provides seniors with a Christian element. We bring the things we do because we get to bring a Christian message to the community,” he said.

Cathy Cipoletti helps make sandwiches at St. Peter's Anglican Church for Meals on Wheels in October. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
Cathy Cipoletti, who has volunteered since she was in high school, helps with preparing food at Meals on Wheels. She also goes out and helps deliver the meals. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
Ellen Fullerton organizes sandwiches to be placed into bags for Meals on Wheels at St. Peter's Anglican Church. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
Cindy Yenick fills containers of cottage cheese for Meals on Wheels in the kitchen at St. Peter's Anglican Church. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
Norah Collins prepares cookies at St. Peter's Anglican Church for distribution to Meals on Wheels clients. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
Terri Tirk keeps track of lists while volunteering for Meals on Wheels. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
Jenley Birch stamps information onto the lunch bags for Meals on Wheels. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
Kathleen Rutkoski stamps on the date for all of the meals being made for Meals on Wheels at St. Peter's Anglican Church. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
Kathleen Demitras writes names and route numbers on each brown bag for Meals on Wheels. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
Meals on Wheels program director Mary Patacky, fifth from right, and the prorgram’s Friday morning volunteers gather at St. Peter's Anglican Church recently. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle

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