Center Plans Safe, Distanced Reopening

Volunteers are shown with food, gifts and a special greeting for The Center’s membership.

 

After closing its doors and relegating events to the parking lot, The Center in Yankton will reopen its doors Monday for the first time in more than a year.

There will be limited activities, with temperatures being taken on entry, required masking and social distancing, according to The Center’s most recent newsletter. Those activities include billiards, NuStep/exercise room, exercise class with Judi, line dancing and bean bag toss. Also, pet food pickup, hot meal pickup, commodity pickup, toe-nail clinic and notary services will be available. Those interested should call ahead.

The Center’s traditional communal sit-down meal is still on hold as organizers wait another month to see how the soft reopening goes, Christy Hauer, The Center’s director, told the Press & Dakotan.

“All through this process, we certainly wanted to open, but we did not want any of our members to get sick,” she said. “We left it up to the medical community to decide month by month, whether we were going to open. They were still very hesitant.”

Yankton currently has a 10%-11% positivity rate for COVID-19, up from 5% two weeks ago, which gave decision makers pause, she said.

“We’re going to continue to do what we’ve been doing and keep our members safe through working with the medical community and having them, since they’re on the front lines, call the shots,” Hauer said.

Since the newsletter went out in April, members have already started calling The Center about chair exercises, line dancing, billiards and table tennis, she said.

“We’re asking them to call and let us know if they’re coming,” Hauer said. “That way we can manage if there were to be a crowd, we would be perfectly prepared.”

Promoting good nutrition, especially for older members, is a priority for The Center, she said.

“With the isolation at all, it’s so important to at least stay nutritionally healthy,” Hauer said. “We are strongly encouraging folks to give us a call if they’re coming in to reserve some meals and take some meals home.”

Even though the building was closed, staff did their best to stay in touch with The Center’s 700 members, including calling them every month to remind them that The Center had meals for pickup, even on rib night.

“We also printed up big signs, ‘We miss you! See you soon!’ with our logo,” she said. “Then we purchased a bunch of gift cards and little gifts and prizes, and the staff, some employees from Thrivent Financial and the Boy Scouts went out to their apartments and their homes. Holding up the sign, we’d drop a gift at the door and then call them so they could see we were out there.”

Those were some of the “feel good” moments of the pandemic, she said.

As hard as having The Center closed for so long during the pandemic was on the members, coming to work to an empty building on a daily basis was extremely difficult for the staff, she said.

“We were in the habit of seeing these folks daily or weekly and breaking bread with them,” Hauer said. “We are all a family, and we are thrilled to be able to at least bring a few people back and offer a few activities.”

Though members have not been receiving their full benefits over the past year, membership renewal is at the highest level ever, she said.

Staff have stepped up, worked together and adapted to the demands of the pandemic.

“During this challenging time, we have cooked, packaged and delivered the lion’s share of 45,321 meals to 11,800 people (some of those are duplicated),” she said. “It’s very difficult to be in a hot kitchen all day with a mask on, hair net on and gloves on.”

To limit exposure, The Center has called on the same core group of volunteers throughout the pandemic to pack and deliver all those meals, two and three at a time, she noted.

Also, donors from the Yankton community have come forward with support for the organization.

“I think that just speaks volumes about the type of people that we have in our community,” she said, adding that the past year was a financial struggle, which persists as long as events are canceled.

With case numbers as low as they have been, organizers have already decided to bring back its Rockathon fundraiser July 7 in a COVID-friendly setting.

Hauer said she is optimistic that with each month, more activities will become available, including, ultimately, the possibility of having sit-down meals again.

“I would just like to encourage anyone that plans to come back to The Center to really help us in following the guidelines,” she said. “We want to be able to have time to interact with the members and welcome them back.”

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