Most of Valencia County’s senior centers are open — with COVID-19 precautions — but there have been some changes to hours and in order to keep the meal programs safe and operational.
Valencia County community services director Nancy Gonzales said except for the Belen Senior Center, all other facilities are serving congregate meals and offering programming.
“We are only doing grab-and-go meals at the Belen center because that is our main kitchen; that’s where we make the meals for the other congregate sites and the home deliveries,” Gonzales said. “It’s our main hub and if we had a COVID outbreak there, it would effectively shut down our whole meal program.”
The rest of the centers reopened in August for in-person meals and activities, but Gonzales said the number of people coming for activities have been very low.
“We’re getting maybe two or three people. I think the Los Lunas center has the most at about 10 people,” she said. “I’m not sure if that’s because people don’t think we’re open or if they’re worried about the new (COVID) variant.”
Seniors wishing to participate at activities being offered at the centers will need to comply with current COVID safety precautions, Gonzales said.
“Everyone — regardless of vaccination status — has to wear a mask at all times,” she said. “Also, a lot of the group programs, like the line dancing, knitting and pottery, were provided by outside instructors who haven’t come back to offer the classes.”
OAP meal sites in the county are the Bosque Farms Community Center, Fred Luna Multigenerational Center, Del Rio Senior Center in Rio Communities and Meadow Lake Community Center, which are all serving congregate, sit-down, lunches while the Belen Senior Center is doing grab-and-go lunches.
County-operated senior centers are open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but Gonzales said the facilities are typically closing by 1 p.m.
“They’re open for two hours before lunch and then after lunch, but most people are gone by one,” she said.
Even if the number of seniors playing pool and socializing at the centers is low right now, demand for meal services has increased during the pandemic, Gonzales said. During the peak of COVID-19 in 2020, the program saw a 40 percent increase in demand for services and that has held stead at a 20 percent increase, the director said.
“We are probably being a little more conservative than other programs,” Gonzales said. “I know it’s frustrating. I’d hoped we would end the year with a big Christmas party, but we are dealing with a population that’s a much higher risk. We have to be cautious.”
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.