Yesterday, “06880” announced the opening of a Westport Food Fund. The aim was to raise money for the 4% of our neighbors — 1,200 or so — who face food insecurity during the COVID-19 crisis.
The goal was $50,000. A couple of generous contributions had seeded the fund. But there was much more to raise.
Within 12 hours, that lofty goal was reached.
Organizers were ecstatic — and inspired. The new goal: $75,000.
Department of Human Services director Elaine Daignault says:
We don’t know how much longer and to what extent this crisis will affect the community. But we do know the challenges are significant.
Our mission is to ensure that Westport’s most vulnerable have food on their tables in the coming weeks, and perhaps months. The funds raised in just 24 hours will ensure that their most essential nutritional needs are met.
Our call volume increases every day. We now have more resources to help, thanks to the awe inspiring generosity and compassion of our town.
She loved the hashtag in one of the comments: #westportstrong. Though she prefers a new one: #westportwow!
In fewer than 4 weeks since the coronavirus struck, calls to Westport’s Department of Human Services quadrupled.
Residents worry about countless things. But the most common fear is food insecurity.
“Between our established clients whom we’ve worked with for years, and new callers who find themselves unable to make ends meet, anxiety and panic is setting in for many,” says director Elaine Daignault.
“A lot of them already face tough decisions between putting food on the table, and paying household expenses.” Already, it is estimated, more than 4% of Westporters face food insecurity.
That’s around 1,200 people. Many are seniors and children.
And, Daignault warns, as social isolation continues and unemployment rises, those challenge will be felt by people who never in the past faced financial difficulties.
This photo symbolizes the fears of a rising number of Westporters.
A single mom with 3 kids has kept only one part-time job. But her rent is due. Without enough savings to stock up at the grocery store, she must stop in 3 times a week. That increases her risk of exposure, causing further despair.
One Westporter relies on the gig economy; his wife is disabled. Suddenly, his income does not cover the cost of food, rent and medications.
A senior citizen has worked part-time as a grocery clerk to supplement his Social Security income. Fearful of exposure to infection, he quit working. He can afford food — but he’s stopped paying his cell phone and electric bills.
An elderly, ailing couple have depended on the Senior Center for their daily hot, nutritious meal. The rest of the time, the wife prepares simple canned soups and frozen dinners.
Daignault is proud of her small staff. They offer connections, support and resources to residents in need. They make personal phone calls, and are working harder now than ever.
They’re providing grocery gift cards to Westporters, and collaborating with the school district to help families access the free and reduced lunch curbside pickup program.
Human Services has a rainy day fund. But there is a limit to their financial resources.
“We can’t wait for state and federal programs to kick in,” Daignault says. “People are hungry now.”
Dan Levinson shares her concerns. A longtime Westporter who years ago helped organize the original Green Village Initiative, he gets things done.
Quickly, he and other concerned residents created a Food Fund. The money they raise will be administered by Westport’s Department of Human Services.
The goal is ambitious: $50,000. But generous contributions jump started it nicely.
Daignault welcomes the support. She calls the Food Fund “a great example of how we as a community can express compassion, and use our skills and creativity to benefit others. It also shows how we are all in this together.”
Senior Center director Sue Pfister adds, “My heart broke when my colleagues in Human Services began to worry about not having resources needed to handle the calls they were getting about folks needing basic food and grocery money.
“I knew if the word got out the community would rise to the occasion, and see to it that not one human being went hungry in Westport. Dan Levinson loved the mission, and ran with the concept. 72 hours later, we were halfway to our goal!”
Click here to donate. For more information — including how to benefit from food funds — call 203-341-1050.
As of 4:30 p.m. yesterday (Monday, March 30), Westport had 115 confirmed COVID-19 cases, up 1 from the previous day. Weston had 24, up 3.
Of Connecticut’s 2,571 confirmed cases, the largest number continues to be in the 50-59 age group. The over-80 group has the highest rate of hospitalizations and deaths. Click here for a detailed look at the statewide spread of the disease.
Connecticut’s hospitals, nursing homes and medical facilities are in desperate need of medical volunteers. The state has embarked on a campaign to urge people with healthcare or medical backgrounds. Click here to register.
Rizzuto’s, Amis and Terrain restaurants have closed, until further notice. All had provided curbside and takeout dining during the coronavirus crisis.
As healthcare workers and first responders work tirelessly to keep us healthy, we should do the same for them.
“Mission Nutrition” helps. As described by Westporter Lisa Adelmann (whose husband and 2 brothers are local physicians), the goal is to deliver healthy care packages to hospitals, nursing homes, and police and fire departments around the country.
Packages contain protein shake mix, protein bars, energy and hydration drinks, and herbal tea. Some have hand cream.
To minimize human contact, each care package is assembled in a warehouse, and shipped directly to a hospital or first responder site.
Funds are needed. No donation is too small (or too big). To donate, Venmo @missionnutrition. Questions? Email email@example.com.
The town of Westport now offers online tax preparation, with no in-person contact.
Volunteers — led by Westporter Mark Spivack — are the same IRS-certified tax preparers who have offered these services for years. The site is safely encrypted.
Users need a smartphone or computer, WiFi access, a working phone number and email address.
Though the US tax filing deadline has been extended to July 15, many Westporters have time on their hands now to “be prepared.”
For more information and to access the service, click here.
Bill Vornkahl reports that although the Greens Farms Fire Company’s 69th annual Easter Egg Hunt has been canceled, the Easter Bunny will make rounds throughout town starting early afternoon on Sunday, April 12.
Be on the lookout for him! (Although, Bill says confidentially, Westport’s Bunny is really a her.)
Not the Greens Farms Volunteer Fire Company’s Easter Bunny. (Photo/Hannah Hall)
Need info on the federal government plan to distribute direct payments to individuals and families? Congressman Jim Himes sends along this link to frequently asked questions. To learn more, call his office: 203-333-6600.
Linda Hall offers a special shout-out to Sue Pfister: “My parents never expected the Senior Center director to be their Meals on Wheels delivery person. But last week, there Sue was — by herself, in a downpour.” Thank you, Sue!
Sue Pfister (seated, right), at her beloved Senior Center.
Staples High School Class of 2011 graduate Nicki Brill now works as a middle school math teacher.
She says she is “lucky to be healthy and quarantined with my family.” She wants to recruit volunteers to help neighbors in need.
Click here for her form for healthy volunteers. Click here if you should not leave home (immunocompromised, older, other pre-existing conditions, quarantined). and need help with groceries or errands.
Looking to help in other ways? Click here for a link to many great ideas.
Village Pediatrics posted this, on social media. Their “kids” do grow up!
(Dr. Nikki Gorman adds, “We really need these, to use as reusable masks over our N95s that we can wash daily with the new washer dryer we are installing in our office — and for patients’ parents and some patients who could be asymptomatic carriers of COVID.”)
COVID-19 put a brutal end to the Staples High School girls basketball team’s magical season, just hours before the state semifinal game tipped off.
Senior co-captain Marisa Shorrock wrote about that emotional end for The Ruden Report. I reposted her insightful story on “06880.”
ESPN got into the act. Her essay was featured on the sports network.
Then last night, the entire team got a shout-out on ESPN’s Senior Moments feature. Scott Van Pelt did the honors — and quoted from Marisa’s story.
It’s not the state championship they probably would have won. But it’s nice to get a bit of well-deserved national recognition! Click below (skip to 1:44, if all you care about are our Wreckers).
(Hat tip: Russell and Don Kubie)
A bogus website claims that the Greens Farms post office is closed. (Here it is — but don’t click on any links inside it. You can never be too safe!)
The cute little post office by the train station is not closed. They’re still open, still serving customers in their homey, neighborhood way. Officials are aware of the fake site, but have been unable to shut it down.
(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)
Though the awards ceremony for TEAM Westport’s annual teen diversity essay contest is postponed, the group — town’s multicultural committee — has announced the 3 finalists.
Staples High School seniors Sahiba Dhindsa and Zachary Terrillion, and sophomore Victoria Holoubek-Sebok, are in the running for prizes of $1,000, $750 and $500.
This year’s prompt asked teens to describe experiences involving stereotypes focused on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, and consider steps that organizations, schools or individuals could take to counteract those stereotypes.
Westport musician Jon Saxon has performed for the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce at Supper & Soul and the Levitt Pavilion.
Tonight at 8 p.m. he livestreams a 30-minute concert. Click here for the Zoom link. The meeting ID is 901 431 6011.
It”s free — but he encourages donations during the show (or any time!) to benefit Yale New Haven Hospital. Click here to contribute.
Many supermarkets take strong measures to guard against COVID’s spread. Stew Leonard’s goes extra far. They’ve put Plexiglas shields on all registers and express lines, and at the customer service and coffee departments. Their hot and cold bar food is all pre-packaged now, and employees serve hot food and soup.
And finally, I love the song “500 Miles” by the Proclaimers. This isn’t it. (It’s a lot less Scottish, for one thing.) But it’s almost as good.
Martha Aasen remembers when Westport’s Senior Center was part of Staples High School.
Two small rooms were hidden between the fieldhouse and wood shop. It was open just a few hours a day. Lunch came from the school cafeteria.
In 2003, a new Senior Center opened on Imperial Avenue. It was a spectacular improvement.
Bright and airy, it was filled with rooms for meetings, lectures, fitness and films. There was a library and dining room too. Seniors flocked there for events, classes and camaraderie.
That was 15 years ago. When First Selectman Jim Marpe cuts a ribbon tomorrow (Friday, January 4, 11 a.m.), Westporters of all ages will marvel at the first major enhancement of the Senior Center since it opened.
The 9-month project comes in on schedule — and on budget. The town appropriated $3.975 million. Friends of the Senior Center raised $300,000 for equipment and amenities.
(Clockwise from lower left): Martha Aasen, Leslie Wolf, Stan Nayer and Sue Pfister in the lobby of the newly modernized Senior Center.
Last week, Senior Center director Sue Pfister, Friends president Leslie Wolf, and Aasen — now in her 90s, and as passionate about the Center as ever — offered a tour of the new facility. It blends seamlessly with the original.
The 5,000-square foot new wing includes:
A new fitness center, with modern treadmills and machines
A strength classroom, also used for tap dancing and Zumba
A new library, with a computer and magnifiers
A drop-in game room
All new furniture and carpeting
New display cases for artwork
Outdoor access to the adjacent Baron’s South meadow, for tai chi and meditation
Offices for program manager Holly Betts, and interns
New restrooms with showers (for when the Senior Center is used as an emergency shelter).
Martha Aasen on the new treadmill. Doors open onto the Baron’s South park.
Other parts of the Senior Center have been modernized too. There are new floors, chairs and tabletops in the “Sue’s Cafe” dining room (where “grab-and-go” food will soon be available); a new wood floor next door, for dance classes; a second art room, and a handsome new custom desk in the entry foyer.
“It’s even better than we envisioned,” says Aasen — who was closely involved in the project — proudly.
“We’ve had so many meetings, and we saw all the plans. But when you actually see it finished, it’s unbelievable.”
“Stunning!” adds Pfister.
New windows provide the same airy look as the original wing of the Senior Center.
The Senior Center director credits the project’s smooth completion to “tremendous cooperation” from local officials. The Building Department’s Steve Smith, the Department of Public Works, and Parks & Recreation director Jen Fava were all all-in.
Architect Brian Scheuzger designed the original building too. A.P. Construction — which is also handling the Westport Library’s Transformation Project — did all the work.
The Senior Center attracts a wide range of people, Pfister notes: Those who are very active; those looking for quiet activities; those who want to meet old friends, and those seeking companionship.
It’s a welcoming facility for some, a second home for others.
Now — for all of them — Westport’s Senior Center is better than ever.
Workers were still finishing up — and unloading furniture — last week.
Fran Reynolds — for 25 years, Westport’s Department of Human Services senior services coordinator — died last week at 89. Longtime colleague Terry Giegengack sent along these thoughts:
Fran Reynolds passed away last Friday at Norwalk Hospital with her beloved daughters and family by her side. She will be remembered with loving respect by many — including those she worked with at Westport’s Department of Human Services.
Fran developed Senior Social Services many years ago. She was the heart and soul of the Human Services Department. As a young working mother for Senior Services, I appreciated her kindness and understanding, as well as her high standards of excellence in work performance.
The continuing professional education that I was fortunate to receive in Westport’s Human Services Department, from Fran and others noted below, provided the foundation for a lifetime of public social service. What I valued the most was Fran’s caring, thoughtful but honest assessments and evaluations of a situation. It challenged and delighted me when I could successfully anticipate all of her questions about a situation and have ready — all of the answers!
Fran treasured her family and friends with tender and loving care, helping us all to grow as better persons. She valued the learning experience, but it was her sense of humor that always made me smile and believe in tomorrow!
Fran Reynolds, with her trademark laugh.
Sue Pfister, Director of the Westport Senior Center, says that Fran was “forever giving of her time, spirit, self and soul to make sure everyone was taken care of, and their needs were being met. Her demeanor was always calm, slow but deliberate, effective and efficient. Her smile was contagious, right up to the end.
“She went peacefully, as she so well deserved. As a second mom to me, she will continue to live out all that she taught me, for I know she is watching over every step I take!”
Barbara Butler, former director of Westport Human Services and long-time friend, highlighted Fran’s tremendous respect for each individual and their right to make their own choices however much we might disagree.
“Fran instilled in all of us a respect and admiration for a person’s self- determination, including their feistiness. She was innovative, especially with the tax relief program. And how she could talk to a client long enough to convince them that a course of action they had initially opposed was actually their idea. Fran was brilliant!”
Fran Reynolds (2nd from left) with colleagues Terry Giegengack, Sue Pfister and Barbara Butler.
David Kennedy, former director of Westport Human Services and current COO, United Way of Coastal Fairfield County, adds, “Fran was one of the most thought-filled leaders I have ever known. Every decision she made was rooted in values that always put others first — and herself after everyone else — and always with her special smile. Fran Reynolds was a true servant leader who touched my life — and thousands of others’ — deeply.
“Have you ever seen the plaque, ‘Faith-Family-Friends’ that sits in many homes? That was Fran. Her faith guided her in all she did and was the bedrock of her life.
“Family? The more the merrier and the more love she gave each and everyone.
“Friends? If you knew her, you were a friend for life. Neighbor, college classmate, client, volunteer, Compo Beach acquaintance, co-worker, and on and on. Everyone was welcomed into her arms and always treasured for who they were not for who they knew.”
May God bless you and keep you. Rest in peace, dear Fran. Love, Terry Giegengack
Dana Johnson moved to Saugatuck over 30 years ago. He married Ginny, and is an avid tennis player.
He’s our unsung hero because of all his work with the Senior Center. He serves meals, calls Bingo every Thursday to a devoted crowd, and organizes events like the Staples Senior Golf Tournament — an inter-generational event involving the high school boys and girls teams that benefits the center’s fitness program.
Dana Johnson (2nd from right, with clipboard), at the Staples Senior Golf Tournament.
Dana also volunteers 2 days a week at the center’s congregate lunch program, as a “waiter.”
Loretta Hallock calls him “one of the most unselfish people I know.”
Senior center director Sue Pfister adds, “Dana’s warm smile and gregarious personality are welcome any day of the week here. The only problem I have with him is, he’s a Red Sox fan!”
Congratulations, Dana. Thanks for all you do, for so many!
There are about as many senior citizens in Westport as school-age children.
But you can’t lump all our older folks together, any more than you can say kindergartners are the same as, um, seniors.
The men and women who frequent our Senior Center — formally known as the Westport Center for Senior Activities — range in age from 60s to 90s. Some come nearly every day; others regularly, or infrequently.
They head to the handsome downtown building for a variety of reasons: Fitness, aerobics, Pilates or yoga. Discussions and lectures. Meet longtime friends, and make new ones. Parkinson’s support groups. Lunch. Use computers. Play pool, bridge, poker, Scrabble or ping pong. Paint, sculpt or sketch. Read. Help with taxes, financial planning or Medicare options. Parties. Movies. Blood pressure screening or flu shots. Find companionship, and a community.
A Senior Center lecture draws a typical full house.
Our Senior Center is one of the most popular, well organized and best staffed in the country. But growth — up to 350 people a day — has created a critical need for enhancements.
In 2007, town planners predicted the Imperial Avenue center would run out of space in 2011. The recession forced improvements onto the back burner.
For the past 7 years, they’ve been part of the 5-year capital forecast. On Wednesday, May 17 (8 p.m., Town Hall), Senior Center representatives will ask for $3.9 million for enhancements.
Plans for the enhanced Senior Center. Click on or hover over to enlarge.
The Senior Center — run under the umbrella of the Human Services Department — has been around since the mid-1980s. Originally one room in the YMCA’s Bedford Building, it expanded when Greens Farms Elementary School closed (space there was shared with the Westport Arts Center).
When Greens Farms reopened, the Senior Center moved to a couple of rooms at Staples High School. The Imperial Avenue facility — built with strong support from First Selectman Dianne Farrell — opened in 2004. (“Ahead of schedule and under budget,” director Sue Pfister notes with pride.)
Much has changed since then. Closing hours were lengthened and Saturdays added, to accommodate seniors who still work.
Westport’s 60-plus population has risen dramatically — and they’re living longer.
As the Senior Center expanded its programming, more men and women attended more often.
There’s no more room for some activities. Four times a year, when registration opens for popular classes like yoga (gentle, regular and intense levels), the line forms at 6:30 a.m.
The small fitness area was filled to capacity on Saturday morning.
The other day, Pfister joined Enhancement Committee chair Lynn Goldberg and member Martha Aasen to explain the $3.9 million request.
There are 3 prongs.
One involves adding 4,500 square feet, offering:
More room for existing and new programs.
Space to socialize. “Many people meet friends here; they don’t go to each other’s homes nowadays,” Pfister says.
Meals to go (the Center serves 11,000 lunches a year — but for some seniors it’s their only real meal of the day).
Flexibility to adapt to changing future needs. “There’s a whole group of ‘new elders’ coming down the line,” 87-year-old Aasen notes.
(From left): Martha Aasen, Lynn Goldberg and Sue Pfister. Fitness equipment is stored in the hallway, because there’s no room anywhere else.
The 2nd element is parking and transportation. “If people can’t get here, our great programs are worthless,” Goldberg notes. For popular events, people now park as far away as Colonial Green.
“Senior-friendly” enhancements include more spots closer to the entrance, eliminating inclines, and adding ramps.
The 3rd category is “building tweaks.” This includes flashing work, making the front doors easier to use, adapting the computer room to the increase in laptops, and repositioning the fitness room so it opens onto walking trails on Baron’s South. (Parks and Recreation director Jen Fava is a member of the Enhancement Committee.)
A rendering of the proposed Senior Center building.
The Senior Center is a Westport jewel. And it’s not just for seniors.
Pfister is a huge proponent of intergenerational activities. Staples students volunteer there (one particularly popular activity: iPhone and iPad training). STAR delivers meals. The Senior Center often partners with the Library and other town organizations to sponsor programs.
“Mixing generations together helps reduce cognitive decline,” Pfister says. “And younger people get a lot out of interacting with older ones.”
A young volunteer at the annual lobster/clambake. The Senior Center serves 11,000 meals a year. For some, it’s their only real meal of the day. The proposed enhancement would enable the addition of “grab-and-go” meals.
She is excited about a new, upcoming activity. Suzuki has offered to run a course. Pfister must decide between violin or voice lessons.
Girls enjoy getting together to share stories, food and fun. That’s true whether the girls are 15 or 90 years old.
Or — in Westport — whether they’re 15 and 90.
Carolyn Malkin is midway between those ages. As a volunteer meal-deliverer for the Senior Center, she realized a lot of women live alone. They’re interesting, chatty and filled with amazing histories — but they didn’t always have a chance for social interaction.
Carolyn had a great relationship with her own grandmother, who lived to 99. But — as the mother of 2 girls — she knew a lot of teenagers in Westport don’t have grandmas nearby.
Rita Adams (left) with Melony Malkin. (Photo/Grace Kosner)
Working with the Senior Center’s Sue Pfister; Human Services’ Barbara Butler and Sue Lebrija; Staples High School administrators John Dodig and Rich Franzis, and “younger seniors” Mary Maynard and Mildred Bunche, Carolyn created the Girlfriends Club. Pairs of high school girls spend an hour or so a week with a “girlfriend”: an older Westporter.
Last year, Carolyn’s senior daughter Melony and a few friends formed the first relationships.
This year, Carolyn’s sophomore daughter Sydney recruited her own friends. A couple of dozen more teenagers signed up. It’s unclear who has more fun: they, or their 80- and 9o-something girlfriends.
“This is not about teenagers visiting women who are helpless and lonely,” Carolyn emphasizes. “It’s a 2-way relationship. These are very lively, very lovely women. The girls adore them, and the feeling is mutual.”
Jo Woog — my mother — with girlfriends Lauren Stack and Sophie Epstein. (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)
Carolyn goes to the 1st meeting, introducing everyone and helping the conversation along. Very quickly, though, she’s not needed.
“Their relationship develops better without me,” she says.
Joyce Clarke is the oldest girlfriend. At 103, she didn’t know what she’d talk about. She hadn’t been around young people for a while. Quickly, Carolyn says, she learned they’re interested in the same things she was, years ago.
Photographer Lucia White shows Grace Kosner around her studio. (Photo/Carolyn Malkin)
Joyce is just one of the older girlfriends with remarkable lives. The women were business owners, artists and photographers. Rita Adams was a dancer and circus performer. “These are fun, vibrant people,” Carolyn emphasizes. “The girls fall in love with them. Having young blood is great, and the women have so much to give.”
The weekly meetings are fun. So too are get-togethers with the entire club.
At a Valentine’s party earlier this month, the group gathered at the Senior Center. Nothing was planned, beyond food and decorations. Soon, everyone was talking, laughing — even dancing. One woman and her girlfriends made up a dance. Once Rita joined in, everyone else did too.
“It was great to see so many smiles,” Carolyn says. “For the next party, we’ll get a DJ!”
Rita Adams (left) dances with Leah Fuld. (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)
Grace Wynne, Rita Adams, Sydney Malkin and Shirley Mellor enjoy the Valentine’s party. (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)
Girlfriends of all ages get together at the Senior Center. (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Thanks!)