DOVER, Del. (AP) — There was plenty to be thankful for Tuesday at CHEER’s Warren L. & Charles C. Allen Community Center.
More than 200 members of senior centers across Sussex County gathered for CHEER’s annual Holiday Feast — its first large-scale indoor gathering for its clientele since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is great, where we can interact with them, see them and see that they are well and that they are happy,” said Walter Koopman, president of CHEER’s board of directors. “A lot of these seniors don’t really have any other family. So it is very special because these are all our senior clients that we take care of throughout the year. So why not bring them in all at one time?”
COVID-19 squashed large gatherings throughout most of 2020. As the pandemic subsides and restrictions are lifted, however, CHEER centers have reopened, operating under some precautions. Those measures, in fact, limited the setup for Tuesday’s event.
“This is our first indoor gathering we have had in almost two years,” said CHEER spokeswoman Carolyn O’Neal, noting that some older individuals are still a little afraid to go out. “We still have to abide, … so we can only set up for so many. We set up for 250. We’re going to be pretty full. But we usually have 300-400.”
For Georgetown CHEER member Mary Rogers and Robert Royland of the Long Neck facility, it was a chance to get out and reunite with friends.
“I come to socialize and be with people. It is something to be thankful for. It’s great to see all this crowd. I recognize some of them,” said Mr. Royland. “And of course, some of them have died over that period of time.”
Ms. Rogers added, “I don’t drive now, so I am limited to what I can do and where I can go. You miss that get-togetherness. But it’s good to be back.”
The lockdown during the height of the pandemic was rough, Mr. Royland said.
“I live by myself. ... I was just locked down and couldn’t go anywhere or do anything. I couldn’t go out,” he said. “It felt like being in prison.”
Holiday Feast attendees were treated to a hearty, hot Thanksgiving meal of turkey, stuffing and various fixings, prepared on-site by CHEER’s nutrition staff.
DJ Sky Brady provided a musical backdrop, mostly golden oldies from the 1950s and ’60s that ushered some energetic participants onto the dance floor.
In September, CHEER organized its first large-scale outdoor gathering of the year, at a picnic at Trap Pond State Park in Laurel.
“It really has been hard. For most of them, this is their socialization life. This is where they find their companionships, where their friends are,” said Ms. O’Neal. “A lot of them do not drive anymore. They depend on our buses to take them even to the grocery store and the drugstore. So they don’t get out to see their friends, except at CHEER. We all have that inner need for companionship. And studies have shown that isolation contributes to death.
“They may be a little older, a little bit slower, but they still want to have fun in their life. They want to have some memories. They want to make some memories. Things like this help them do that. Everybody is just very excited about this. The staff, the seniors — everybody just really (has) a lot to be thankful for today.”
OPERATION CHRISTMAS CHEER
CHEER also is gearing up for its next major holiday project: Operation Christmas CHEER, a tradition that welcomes community support.
On Christmas morning, volunteers will deliver complete roast turkey dinners, poinsettias, personalized Christmas cards, gifts and warm holiday greetings to homebound seniors with no family in the area.
To assist in this effort, CHEER welcomes donations of gifts. Informational flyers and lists of needed items are located at sleighs in the lobby of the CHEER Community Center on Sand Hill Road, Georgetown; at County Bank branches on Del. 16, Milton, and on Long Neck Road; and at the Meineke Car Care Center in Lewes.
Sweatshirts, gloves, one-size-fits-all hats and other items are sought.
“This is so we can go out on the 25th, that morning, and give a gift for her or a gift for him or both and a Christmas card that is made by students at the elementary school in Long Neck and a big, nice, hot dinner and celebrate Christmas,” said Mr. Koopman. “Because a lot of these seniors don’t really have any other family. A lot of them won’t have any (Christmas) unless we get out there and do this.
“And we are always looking for volunteers to help us out,” he said.
For more information on Operation Christmas CHEER, including volunteer opportunities, contact Amy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 302-853-4200 or Robin Greene at email@example.com or 302-853-4199.