By Meg Rauch
Of the ten most popular charities in the U.S., according to Charity Navigator, six deliver assistance to children or impoverished people, two provide medical or disaster relief services and two are devoted to protecting wildlife and the environment. None of these organizations is directly associated with helping the elderly, who now comprise nearly 13 percent of the total U.S. population. Many seniors could use some assistance as they cope with with a variety of problems. Most common are: managing declining health, being isolated from friends and family and dealing with limited financial resources.
Despite a growing population and a growing need, service organizations devoted to the elderly among us are often undervalued and overlooked.
“It’s easy to fundraise for animals or for a disease that has affected you personally or someone in your circle. It’s much harder to fundraise for the elderly because people don’t want to acknowledge that they too will one day get old,” said Marilyn Krolak, executive director for the DuPage Senior Citizens Council (DSCC).
“Everybody always thinks of the dogs, the cats, the children, and other organizations, but seniors do kind of get forgotten,” adds Tasha Samuels, information director for DSCC.
The council is a non-profit organization that serves approximately 3,800 senior citizens, veterans and disabled adults in DuPage County, the third wealthiest county in the state. Average household income in DuPage is more than $75,000 annually. Despite this affluence, Krolak said 80 percent of the seniors DSCC serves live 150 percent below the poverty line. This means many of the seniors are living on less than $11,000 annually, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
To help struggling seniors, DSCC provides several services. The largest program is its nutrition program. Through a partnership with Meals on Wheels and with the help of hundreds of volunteers, the DSCC delivers hot meals to seniors’ homes five days a week. During these deliveries, volunteers also conduct wellness checks with the seniors to ensure that they are healthy and safe.
“The wellness checks are so important because they have actually saved lives,” Krolak said. She recalled one instance where an elderly woman’s family had gone out of town for Fourth of July Weekend. The family had asked neighbors to check in on the woman, but the neighbors happened to also be traveling for the holiday. While the two families were gone, the woman fell in her garage and had been lying there for hours when her Meals on Wheels delivery volunteer arrived and found her.
“Had it not been for that volunteer, she would’ve laid there all weekend,” Krolak said. “We have several instances like that every year.”
Aside from the keeping an eye on the physical health and safety of DuPage elderly, the wellness checks serve another crucial role for the seniors. The volunteers who perform these checks give the seniors, who might otherwise be alone for days or weeks at a time, some social interaction. This is something Krolak says helps seniors tremendously.
“Being isolated, not having friends or family around, can cause them to deteriorate more rapidly,” she said.
The second feature of the nutrition program also helps seniors socialize. The DSCC has set up eight community dining sites throughout the county.
“Those sites are where seniors who are still able to get around can come out and socialize and share a meal together,” Krolak said.
Many seniors have developed deep friendships with the other diners at their sites. A few have even gotten engaged or married to a fellow DSCC member. In the video below, DSCC seniors talk about about the benefits they have gotten from being a part of a community dining experienced.
ON CAN TV
In Chicago, watch Medill Reports video stories on CAN-TV channel 27