PETALUMA, Calif. (KGO) -- Elece Hempel, Executive Director of the Petaluma Senior Services Center casually sits in the Senior Café, a dining hall for seniors. Filled with rows of empty tables and chairs, the room feels unusually lonely.
Hempel explains, "normally, there are 45-50 seniors here every day, having lunch."
Petaluma People Services Center offers 59 different human service programs, but today, Hempel focuses on the Senior Café.
"It's so bizarre for us not to have this room full of people", she shares.
With the COVID-19 pandemic and a statewide "shelter in place" order in effect, the café was closed. Although seniors are welcome to have their food picked up, Hempel reveals that the Senior Café represents more than just a warm meal.
"Nutrition is very, very important, but the connection to other individuals has always been the key to this program," she says.
Sitting outside, waiting to pick up her lunch, Edith Schulte adds, "It's nice to talk to the people."
Hempel recalls, "the seniors said to us, 'but we're going to be alone... who am I going to talk too?'"
Schulte echoes the notion, "it's lonely at home...I have a cat and she meows constantly too."
Hempel didn't wait long to address the concern.
"Basically on the fly, we built a program called You're Not Alone and this is an opportunity for other people in the community to reach out and speak with a senior every day," Hempel enthusiastically explains.
"You're Not Alone" is meant to keep seniors from becoming lonely.
"So many of our seniors, being home bound or not being able to be connected with other people, it starts to build on this loneliness piece," Hempel says, "and you know, that leads to anxiety, and that anxiety leads to depression so we are hoping with our You're not Alone program, which is now countywide, we'll be able to touch community members every day, especially in these scary and anxiety filled times".
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