Spring is traditionally a time of openings. First, of course, and both effortlessly and predictably the natural world plays its part. Leaves begin to appear on what have long been bare branches, bulbs push tender shoots up through what has seemed to be fallow ground and even the mornings open to light earlier and more brightly it seems.
On the human side, some long-awaited openings re-engage many of us Americans with what is often referred to as our great national past-time — the spring, summer and even autumn game so many of us love. Yes, with April comes the familiar phrase “play ball” as baseball’s opening day arrives at last. For years, decades, and even millennia (in the case of budding trees anyway) we often let the significance of these events and phenomena go unnoticed, because they seem to be so constant and predictable. But this past year, it is safe to assume that most folks would agree, has been anything but predictable or routine. It certainly has not been “normal,” nor have we necessarily found in it events and practices that we want to continue or repeat. Not all of them anyway; but there are some worth noting, and perhaps even cherishing.
One example comes to mind for us at the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger quite naturally. In the face of a pandemic that was closing nationwide those local institutions that provided services for groups of individuals – like congregate nutrition programs operating in senior centers around the country – alternative solutions to a real and serious community-based problem were quickly being implemented. Untold numbers of such programs across the country were quick to adopt new service models such as drive through meals that clients could pick up without ever leaving their cars. While this service did not provide the same experience that seniors had enjoyed in the past when they could sit around the table with friends, it did: ensure that seniors received balanced meals; assure them that, although they might be temporarily isolated, they weren’t forgotten; and provide at least a regular “passing glance” and cheerful greeting from friends and center staff. In other words, it was a critical and welcome temporary solution.
As local conditions and resources allow, many congregate meal sites will begin reopening, both to welcome back former clients and to engage new ones. Some already have. We hope that such reopenings will become a rite of spring – this 2021 spring – that should be applauded and anticipated with the same or even greater gusto and joy as we give those other types of familiar openings that are so eagerly awaited through cold and dark seasons.
Certainly from the perspective of literally thousands of older Americans across the nation, this year the most important opening day(s) will not be the ones that take place in backyard gardens or in baseball stadiums. They will be the ones that occur in those local senior centers in communities across this land as congregate nutrition programs welcome seniors back “home.” And when that happens, there will only be winners.