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Snow Forces Senior Services to Halt

Terry Cavalier, program manager for Reston Interfaith, did not see as many of the food and nutrition program/food pantry clients as she normally does this past week, especially the senior clientele.

While more people did start trickling in Thursday and Friday, hardly anyone appeared Wednesday to pick up their monthly supply of food. Reston Interfaith, following the same schedule as the county, was closed Monday and Tuesday following a snowstorm last weekend that dumped double-digit accumulation on the area.

"It was business as usual for us. Usually seniors come here for their services, for their food," Cavalier said. "They haven't been coming in as regularly. I haven't seen as many seniors as I usually see. I think they are staying home because of the weather."

The record snowfall created problems for everyone, but especially the seniors who are unable to shovel their walks or travel to local community groups, like Reston Interfaith, for services such as food closets. The snow made it equally difficult for people to bring those services to the seniors as well.

"WE GOT A LOT of calls from people who couldn't get their cars out," said Beth Hershner, assistant director of the Fairfax Area Agency on Aging. "We had some problems with food. When the schools are closed, our Meals on Wheels is closed."

For seniors it seems, there are not a lot of services available when events such as the storm hit. Hershner said, for example, her office received numerous calls from seniors who felt trapped in their homes because they were unable to shovel their driveway or sidewalk. Hershner said she had no advice to offer them, because outside of generous neighbors or paying a local teen-ager to do the work, there is no agency or community group to call.

"Shoveling snow is a problem for anyone. It's scary to have older people out doing it," Hershner said. "There are not a lot of resources for shoveling. It's a gap in services, but it's hard to have a program you may never use."

IN ADDITION, the agency's Meals on Wheels program follows the same schedule as the county schools, which means there were no deliveries all of last week to those who are homebound.

"We did self-ready meals to stock up before the storm, but nobody expected this," she said of the program being closed down for five days. Cavalier said the community group did not do anything out of the ordinary to prepare for the storm, however, the volunteers did caution their elderly clients to be prepared and to be careful not only about the weather but also about their health in the cold.

The Agency On Aging also has a telephone reassurance program for those homebound people who are signed up for the service. On a weekly basis, volunteers call the clients to make sure they have enough food, have the proper medicines and just generally talk to them. Last week, the agency talked to many seniors who were a bit scared because they felt helpless due to all the snow. One caseworker said most seniors feel secure in their environments, but when they can't get out, they panic.

"People who have family around aren't at as much risk as those who are alone," Hershner said.