A citywide tribute to older persons, which traces its beginnings to the South Side, will look somewhat different this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Celebrate San Antonio Seniors Month has been recognized each September the last three years.
District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, one of the founders, said it’s vital to help protect and honor elders for accomplishments and contributions to the neighborhood.
“I often talk about how District 3 represents the past, present and future of San Antonio,” Viagran said. “I think constituents in our community realize how seniors are part of our foundation.”
Because of the pandemic, health care officials say older Americans are at the highest risk of exposure to the viral infection, and authorities have introduced multiple public-health restrictions, including curtailing large gatherings.
So, while the city or the local medical organization behind Seniors Month can’t arrange big group events, South Side community leaders are making sure older folks are appreciated and served in other ways.
South Side residents are big supporters of Seniors Month, since they helped start it, officials said.
In 2017, Dr. Bill Gonzaba of Gonzaba Medical Group, a renowned South Side health care institution, proposed a monthlong recognition of older adults for their contributions and achievements.
The physician reached out to Viagran, who sponsored a resolution to declare each September as Celebrate San Antonio Seniors Month. The measure received unanimous council approval.
Gonzaba has done much to serve older residents in south San Antonio, including working with the San Antonio Food Bank to create the Gonzaba Farmer’s Market to distribute fruit and vegetables to more than 1,000 seniors a month.
In addition, a Gonzaba Event Center was established to offer low-impact daily exercise, educational programming and activities designed specifically for them.
Gonzaba has also worked with the city to provide free, large fans to help older neighbors keep cool in their homes during the summer.
According to Erica Gonzaba, senior marketing manager, Gonzaba Medical Group will continue participating in box-fan drives and produce giveaways.
“By providing fresh produce and pantry boxes, along with other drive-thru resource distributions, we are able to fulfill a need in underserved areas,” she said.
In addition, the organization is using its Facebook profile to conduct “Connection Wednesdays,” focusing on discussions important to older individuals.
Viagran said the city’s plans for Seniors Month in 2020 could include a drive-thru parade where older South Siders are saluted.
Such caravans became popular in recent months as a safe way for community members to acknowledge holidays, as well as graduating high school and college students.
The city has implemented drive-thru food distribution at area senior centers during the coronavirus outbreak.
“That has been helpful for us just to see our seniors,” Viagran said. “For some of our seniors who can’t drive and pick up food, we have drivers who go and drop off the food at their homes. It’s a combination of wellness check and conversation.”
Viagran said the outlet SeniorPlanet.org continues to help older adults stay engaged in various ways.
Based in New York City, Senior Planet provides articles, programs and online sessions to help elders learn skills in social media, music, acting, writing, computers and much more.
Senior Planet also instructs older residents on how to save money and meet new people. The digital platform has a physical presence in San Antonio and five other U.S. cities where neighbors can be more hands-on with classes and activities.
“(Senior Planet) will be doing a lot of things during September,” Viagran added.
Besides Seniors Month, Gonzaba Medical Group is marking its 60th anniversary. The organization just commemorated the grand opening of its renovated near-West Side clinic, which now includes a community events center.
“Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we’ve had to make some adjustments to our celebration this year,” Gonzaba said. “However, we’re looking forward to launching some important initiatives in the coming year, to include education scholarships and a nonprofit organization.”