RICHMOND —  Richmond senior center member Beverly Wightman is staying healthy and safe, but there are two things she’s missing during the COVID-19 pandemic: her close friends from the center, and hugs.

“We were meeting once a week and going out for lunch after,” she said. “I get along so well with those people … three musketeers going out to eat and having a great time.”

Wightman also misses hugging her loved ones.

“Being able to shake hands or hug someone if you wanted to,” she said. “Personal contact is so important to people. When a grandson who’s in his 30s opens his arms and wants to give you a hug and you have to present an elbow, it hurts.”

The senior center, which has about 200 members, was forced to close on March 13. Center director Dennis McGinity adapted to the rapidly evolving health crisis, turning the center into a clearing house for information for his members and distributing farmer’s market produce vouchers and free masks, made by a small group of members.

“Each of them started out by making 25 each and then we found out that that wasn’t going to last, because most of our members had a spouse at home,” he said. “In the beginning, I was delivering them. I delivered about 200 masks.”

The demand for masks has leveled off, but McGinity estimated the center has distributed about 300 so far. 

Wightman, who lives in Hopkinton, is one of the center’s mask-makers.

“I have about three batches of them done and I’m still making masks,” she said. “I probably started at the end of March.”

Center member Judy Bento lives in Richmond in an in-law apartment in her granddaughter’s house, so she is not feeling isolated.

“I get to see the family every day,” she said. “Living here, I have two great-grandsons and then my granddaughter. I’m still driving, I can run to the store or the drugstore or whatever, but that’s my limit. I don’t like to go out too much.”

McGinity said his members’ needs have changed since the pandemic first began. At the beginning, a group of 15 volunteers made themselves available to run errands and take people to appointments. 

“That has slowly died off as people have gotten used to the pandemic and used to how life may have changed,” he said. “They’ve found alternate means of shopping and going to doctors’ appointments. 

McGinity said he believes the pandemic had brought his members closer together.

“I think they’re helping each other more than they have in the past, which is a really good thing,” he said. “… This has been the most life-changing event in our lives, and it has for seniors, particularly, because we are the most vulnerable. We’re the ones who have the lung conditions and the heart conditions and the legs are going and the knees and whatnot. We’re the ones who are most susceptible to this unbelievable disease, this pandemic. Seniors seem to pull together. … They love helping. They love being a part of society, because we’re old now and we need to feel worthwhile.”

Bento, 87, grew up during World War II but she said she has never lived through anything like the pandemic.

“This is so different. So very different,” she said. “I keep wondering, what are my children and grandchildren coming to? Everything that’s going on, it’s devastating, I think, for all of us, but we have to keep our chins up.”

cdrummond@thewesterlysun.com

@cynthiadrummon4

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