At Jovenes de Antaño Senior Services in Hollister, the loss of founder and director Paulina Valdivia can still be felt and seen. Her office remains unused, her desk decorated with personal mementos exactly as she left it just days before her death on Sept. 23, 2022.
“We have all been family here,” said interim Director Connie Padron, 65. “And it has been very difficult for all of us to adjust to her not being around. But if there is one thing she left, it is that she trained everybody very well, so we are trying to keep things going just the way she had them.”
Between the loss of Valdivia and the ongoing struggle to provide help during the pandemic, it has been a time of recovery for the employees of the agency she founded in 1975. But an important step forward has been the soft reopening of the Jovenes dining room on March 15, which had been closed due to pandemic restrictions.
“Before the pandemic, we were serving about 60 people daily,” she said. “But with all the restaurants closing, we could not stay open. We were able to deliver meals to their homes, and we ended up delivering to over 250 people. But the ones who used to come to the dining room really felt the effect of not having the social activities.”
Padron said the dining room is now open Monday through Friday and serves lunch from noon to 1 p.m. Jovenes asks people to make reservations, with many people arriving at 10 a.m. to have a cup of coffee and socialize. The meals are free, though a $2.50 donation is requested.
Jovenes began with an annual budget of about $50,000; it’s now almost $1 million, but Padron said the organization still needs funding. Their popular Meals on Wheels program, which reaches 200 recipients daily, has an 80-person waiting list.
Padron said that they are always looking for more volunteers to help with the program, and could use more drivers with a Class B driver’s license.
“With the drivers we have, they can only socialize for a few minutes at a time, but our seniors out there are very lonely. There are times that the drivers are the only people they see during the day.”
At times, this has proven critical as a way to keep track of seniors who have nobody else to watch over them.
“We have had cases where people were too sick to call an ambulance to help them,” she said. “When they don’t answer the door, our drivers know there might be a problem. We had one case a little while ago when one of our clients was on the floor since Friday after they broke their hip. They were dehydrated and basically abandoned. Nobody in this country should live like this.”
Walter Ormande worked for Jovenes years ago and is now in need of their services, having signed up for meal delivery.
“I came by one day to volunteer,” he said. “And Paulina started giving me more and more to do. I ended up as the president of the board of directors for four years, and then my health began to fail.”
He has been receiving meals, which are the same as those served in the dining room, for three years, and counts on the daily deliveries.
“It helps me a great deal because I’m homebound,” he said. “It’s a different meal every day, and it’s always hot. They have a dietician, so you get all of your nutrients, your protein, and so forth, and it’s well balanced. If I did not have this, all I would be able to have would be a sandwich and a glass of milk.”
Padron said that Jovenes wants to expand the activities offered during dining room hours, which already includes pre-meal bingo and exercise classes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 10:30 to 11:30.
“Now that we are open again,” she said, “We want to get the word out so that more people can join us. There is no reason for seniors to stay at home lonely, and there is no reason for them to be hungry while we are here. It is time for everyone to get back to normal, whatever that normal is, and we are here to help.”
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