Leader Blues

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

TOP STORY >> Elderly find comfort at area centers

By SCOTT LOFTIS
Special to The Leader

August in Arkansas means the heat is on, and temperatures that can be an aggravation for some local residents can be a real danger for others – especially the elderly.

Many local seniors live on fixed incomes and can’t afford to run their air conditioners during the hot summer months. One alternative for some of those residents is the Jacksonville Senior Center.

Center director Christy McMillion said it’s not uncommon for seniors to spend the entire day at the facility.

“I have a couple of them I know that are here before I get here in the morning and stay until we have to ask them to leave,” McMillion said. “Some of them go to other businesses in town and wait for it to cool off.”

McMillion said the center has seen an increase in registration.

“We’ve had 10 people sign up this week,” she said. “I’m not necessarily saying it’s because of the hot weather but we have had more people coming in.”

In the past, McMillion said the center has provided fans to seniors who couldn’t afford to use their air conditioners. But she said donations of fans have dropped dramatically, from a truckload in 2007 to none this year.

“We haven’t received any this year,” she said. “In the past we’ve had people contact us about donating fans but this year we haven’t.”

McMillion said employees of the center are working with some of the seniors to improve their housing situations, but the center doesn’t have enough funding to assist with high utility bills.

The center did receive $15,000 in federal stimulus funding, McMillion said, but the bulk of that was specifically earmarked for meals that are served in the center.

The number of meals that the center serves both in-house and through its Meals on Wheels delivery program also is on the rise, McMillion said.

“We had a record month in July,” she said. “We served a little more than 1,000 meals inside the center.”

Including the home-delivered meals, McMillion said, the total was more than 4,000 in July.

“We have 180 people on home-delivered meals,” she said.

That program relies heavily on a crew of 60 to 70 volunteers, McMillion said.

The senior citizen centers in Cabot and Beebe had no increase in the number of clients served due to heat.

Sharon Anderson, director of the Lonoke County Council on Aging which runs the center in Cabot, said the temperatures have not been hot enough this year to open the center as a cooling station.

“We had a little hot stretch in June but it was cooler in July,” Anderson said. “I don’t think we ever reached triple digits.”

Last year was a different story though. The hot temperatures came late in the year, she said, and by the time she needed to ask for donations of air conditioners, they were all gone. Wal-Mart in Lonoke sent a few fans instead.

Karen Alcott, director of the Beebe Senior Center, which is open from 8:30 a.m. to noon, said the center serves lunch to up to 16 area residents and those numbers
have not increased this summer.

Leader staff writer Joan McCoy contributed to this report.