SAP Area Seniors adapts to COVID challenges

By Dave Healy

During the pandemic, people have been doing a lot of pivoting, finding new ways to carry on activities.

Like many nonprofits, St. Anthony Park Area Seniors has also pivoted during the past year. According to Board Chairwoman Marge Avoles, SAPAS moved in-person exercise classes and a care givers support group online. They added activities to their e-newsletter, website and Facebook page that people can do at home.

SAPAS also started several new services and activities. Hello Service enables a family member or caregiver to set up wellness checks for a senior by calling the SAPAS office (651-642-9052) and negotiating a contract. SAPAS staff then make regular calls to check on the senior’s welfare. Also, Zoom poetry classes provided a supportive environment for participants to share their literary works. The organization serves upwards of 330 senior citizens annually.

To expand virtual participation opportunities for seniors lacking the requisite technology, SAPAS purchased iPads and Internet hot spots that people can borrow.

To compensate for the pandemic-dictated pause of the St. Anthony Park Leisure Center’s in-person weekly luncheons, SAPAS—which cooperates with Leisure Center—began hosting a virtual gathering, the Lunch Bunch, on alternate Wednesdays. During that hour, SAPAS staff check in with seniors, oversee online bingo and show a video.

Besides the Leisure Center, SAPAS cooperates with a variety of other organizations and services including Meals on Wheels, Juniper, the University of Minnesota’s Farmhouse Fraternity, Gifts for Seniors, St. Anthony Park Public Library and many others.

SAPAS Program Director Katharine Tondra said that some of her organization’s services involve offering assistance such as rides to medical appointments, help with raking and other household chores, grocery shopping and delivery.

“But,” she added, “we also offer enrichment and wellness activities such as our exercise, chair yoga and poetry classes; the Lunch Bunch; and card making. Last month we hosted a Zoom OARS (Older Adult Resource Series) presentation on making the most of telehealth visits. We also hosted a virtual concert of guitar music and another of piano music.”

Tondra noted that SAPAS relies heavily on volunteers to deliver its services and activities.

“We couldn’t do what we do without the assistance of many, many volunteers,” she said.

Tondra stressed that SAPAS exists to serve all seniors, to make their lives richer and healthier.

“I talked with someone recently who said she always assumed that SAPAS wasn’t meant for someone like her,” Tondra said. “But then she joined our board and discovered all the things we do. If you’re 60-plus or care for a 60-plus loved one, we’re the program for you.”

Dave Healy lives in St. Anthony Park and is a former editor of the Park Bugle.

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