When Joni Kiple started her job as Executive Director of the Huron Area Senior Center on July 27, Huron was four months into a virtual shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their doors were locked to the public in March, which is when schools, restaurants and many other businesses across the state were closed.
Kiple said. “When I started, we were continuing with the Meals on Wheels program as we are an essential business.”
She said that early in the pandemic, the senior center board of directors came up with the idea to offer drive-up meals for those who would normally eat daily at the senior center.” It was a great idea to continue a much-needed service that many use and that we will continue this service into the future,” she said.
With just starting a new job and our doors being closed it actually gave me a little bit more time to learn the job.
There was a lot to learn as we have the Huron Area Senior Center, Beadle County Area Nutrition, on top of that we also have sites in Woonsocket, Wolsey, Hitchcock and Highmore.”
“Everything really kicked off in March all over the country,” said Kiple, who worked 14 years as vendor and special events coordinator for the S.D. State Fairgrounds prior to becoming executive director of the senior center.
“It was a huge concern for me coming into a new position during a pandemic where we needed to continue to help others. “The stories I read about senior centers across the country during this pandemic varied, some hopeful and some bleak,” There are so many benefits to senior centers,” Kiple said. “Continuing to stay closed the past year has an impact on seniors — mentally and physically. We don’t just offer meals, but health, fitness and recreational opportunities are just a few of the benefits of senior centers.
“Participation in senior centers helps older adults delay the onset of chronic diseases while improving physical, social and economic well-being,” she added. “By keeping active both mentally and physically, seniors stay stronger which helps to maintain independent living. That’s just a few of the benefits.”
The senior center opened to the public on March 1, following CDC guidelines for reopening. These guidelines include enhanced cleaning measures, requiring reservations for lunches and activities to limit the number of participants.
Masks are required, and everyone has a temperature check on entering the building.
They allow 27 people to attend on-site meals, and certain programs. Activities can vary depending on the room size. Tables are spaced throughout the dining room and Fireside Room for social distancing, and they recommend three people allowed at each table.
They serve 4,000-plus meals monthly at the BCAN, including pick-up and home delivered meals. The pickup meals range in number daily from 25 to as high as 70.
“Between all of our sites, we serve around 5,500 a month, and sometimes the numbers are even higher than that,” Kiple said.
Kiple said their Meals on Wheels volunteers provide a daily contact for those receiving meals. If they go back the following day and notice the previous days meal still there, they will report it to the center.
“We have contact information on our individuals and we can make a call to family,” she said. “That can be kind of a first alert that there may be a problem.”
Activities being offered include playing cards, crafting, nickel bingo every other Tuesday (April 6 and 20) from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. The first Wednesday of each month they serve rolls and coffee, and the exercise ladies meet each Tuesday and Thursday. The center is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Anyone 50 and older can take part in the activities. Memberships are also available for $25 per person per year.
Their newsletter is filled with activities for those who would like to get involved.
The Senior Center Book Club, in partnership with Huron Public Library, will begin meeting on April 16 to discuss the book, “The Silent Patient,” by Alex Michaelides. Registration was held in March.
On April 7 at 12:30 p.m., their guest speaker will be Eh Moo Shee, a Karen pastor, musician and songwriter who speaks four languages. He will talk about his time in the jungle, refugee camp, his transition to the United States and his love for America.
On April 23, the center will offer caramel or frosted rolls as a fundraiser. The deadline for ordering rolls is April 20 by 3 p.m.
Besides Kiple, the senior center employs Doug Stevens, head cook; Deb Pearl, assistant cook; Kara Heffner, administrative assistant; Megan Hogle, Meals on Wheels coordinator; and Rhonda Szpotanski, nutrition coordinator who also coordinates congregate and pick-up meals.
Kiple said a big event they have coming up is a Volunteer Appreciation Dessert Social from 1 to 3 p.m. on April 21.
“We couldn’t do what we do without the help of the community and businesses, they are just wonderful,” Kiple said. “They have been very dedicated in helping us. It takes quite a few volunteers to deliver Meals on Wheels. Praise the Lord for bringing these wonderful people into our life.”
For more information or to sign up for activities or meals, call the senior center at 352-8291. The center is located at 290 Seventh St. S.W.