OKEECHOBEE — At their June 11 meeting, Okeechobee County commissioners honored Thomas S. Leach, program manager, and the staff of the Okeechobee County Senior Services for their services to the county’s senior citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a typical week, 13,058 seniors receive meals. In the first week of the COVID-19 Meal Response Plan, 2,700 meals were provided. Last week, nearly 50,000 meals were provided, and since April, more than 200,000 meals have been provided, according to a letter from Col. Jose Thomas-Richards of the Area Agency of Aging of Palm Beach/Treasure Coast.
“This remarkable success could not have been achieved without such capable leaders and associates,” wrote Col. Thomas-Richards.
“Tom has done an excellent job with our folks,” said Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs, who read the proclamation.
The senior population remains at the highest risk of infection, adverse health outcomes and mortality, the proclamation explains. “Significant changes needed to occur in service delivery at Okeechobee Senior Services, including but not limited to closure of certain programs, transition of staffing, changes in protocols in transportation and delivery of meals.
“The volume of clients continues to grow with the elimination of the wait list for meals of homebound seniors and a large influx of new clients needing assistance by the Aging Network.
“Okeechobee Senior Services has implemented new services, including but not limited to telephone reassurance and shopping assistance.
“Okeechobee Senior Services has helped to expand the capacity of the food service vendor network and the implementation of new food vendors,” the proclamation continues.
“There have been competing demands on Okeechobee Senior Services’ resources and associates and Okeechobee Senior Services has consistently put the best interest of clients ahead of any other priorities.”
“Without your staff, a lot of folks in this community would not have a meal,” Chairman Burroughs told Mr. Leach.
Mr. Leach commended his staff. “They have been resilient, patient and understanding,” he said. He said they had to change policies and procedures to protect the senior citizens while at the same time protecting themselves from the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“My drivers, some of them are in full PPE (personal protective equipment) when they are delivering those meals,” said Mr. Leach.
“Our senior services is a shining star in this community,” said Commissioner Brad Goodbread. “You all deserve a big round of applause.”
“I see your people out there every day delivering the meals,” said Commissioner David Hazellief. He said senior services provides a wonderful service to the community.
In other business at their June 11 meeting:
• On behalf of local veterans, Bobby Keefe requested a picnic table be placed at the Burger King on State Road 70 for veterans to use while they wait for the van that takes them to the VA hospital. He said the city has permission from the property owner for a picnic table to be placed there for the veterans. Mr. Keefe noted there are some picnic tables at the Okee-Tantie recreation area that are being rehabbed and placed at various county locations. He asked if one of those tables could be donated for volunteers to rehab and place there for the veterans. The commissioners had no objection to this plan. County Administrator Robbie Chartier said the county can surplus the table to a nonprofit veterans organization.
• Okeechobee County declared June as National Home Ownership Month. SHIP Housing Coordinator Joy Jarriel said in the past year, 29 families in Okeechobee County were able to get in a new home thanks to the State Housing Initiatives Partnership program. She read a letter of thanks from a new homeowner who had been living with her children in a fifth wheel for three years before obtaining their own home with the help of the SHIP program.
• The commissioners agreed to let the Okeechobee High School Rodeo Team use the Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center for two weeks of horse camp this summer. Sheri Trent said 4-H is not offering camps this summer and they are trying to help fill the void. She said they have grant funding from the Children’s Services Council and plan to host a horsemanship camp the week of June 22-26, and a rodeo camp the week of July 6-10. She said the camps will be similar to those previously hosted by 4-H. They will have adult and teen counselors and will be open to at least 30 children each week. Professional horse trainers will provide some of the instruction. The camps will also include sessions about bullying and on drugs and alcohol. Commissioner Kelly Owens said they should coordinate with Community Services Director Denise Whitehead to make sure the camp meets the same standards as the county recreation department summer activities in relation to precautions to prevent spread of the COVID-19 virus.