United Way and VISTE Serving Seniors during COVID-19
Few groups have been hit as hard by the COVID-19 pandemic as the elderly. Lakeland’s Volunteers in Service to the Elderly is working to make sure all of their clients are safe and prepared during this health crisis.
Steve Bissonnette, President of VISTE, said they have suspended a few of their services to focus efforts on the essentials, programs like transportation, hot meals, supplemental groceries, in-home care and emergency monitoring.
“We’ve been able to continue providing these services with reduced staffing and reduced volunteers,” Bissonnette said. “We’ve had to reengineer the delivery service to incorporate social distancing and other CDC guidelines.”
One such client is Eleanor Lusby, an 86-year-old widow who has lived alone in Lakeland for over 40 years. She has been a VISTE client since 2015.
Originally from Germany, Eleanor moved to the United States with her husband, a World War II veteran. Shortly after arriving to the states, her husband Jim passed away when she was 44.
Eleanor decided never to date or remarry. In fact, she came from the DC area to Florida alter he died in order to honor his desire to be near the water because of his love for sailing. She and Jim never had children and what is left of her family remains in Germany.
Proud and protective of her modest home, Eleanor may be small in stature and walks with a cane, but she doesn’t use just any cane. Her’s converts into a sword.
Eleanor is unique in every way, and definitely the type of person who strives to handle any challenges that come her way on her own.
But, realistically, there are still things she needs help with. Eleanor has many health issues including foot neuropathy, which prevents her from driving. Her wish is to drive “just one more time” before she has to give it up.
Recently, Eleanor’s heat went out and she had to sleep on the couch so she could be in the warmest part of the house. Fortunately, thanks to United Way of Central Florida donors, VISTE was able to send a repair crew to ﬁx it.
VISTE volunteers also take Eleanor to doctor appointments, deliver food and offer friendship. Her Hot Meal driver, Sue, stops by on days she is not delivering to check on her, take her places and give her general help around the house.
Eleanor struggles with loneliness and isolation and shows signs of paranoia and dementia. She
often calls the VISTE front desk to ask for help with something that has already been addressed. Eleanor does not have family or close friends who can help her navigate these uncharted waters. In many ways, VISTE and United Way has become her extended family support network.
Due to the pandemic, social distancing guidelines have made in-person check-ins harder. Fortunately, we are part of a community with vast resources, committed volunteers and generous donors.
Thanks to Florida Southern College’s Guest Services for preparing hot meals and First Presbyterian Church of Lakeland for allowing the use of their kitchen, VISTE’s hot meal program is able to continue.
Bissonnette said VISTE has also expanded its use of the Phone Pals program. Volunteers are able to call home-bound clients, check in on them and offer reassurance.
“We’re very grateful for the community support,” Bissonnette said. “For our seniors, these are essential services all year round.”
Thank you for supporting United Way and helping people like Eleanor every day.