The doors of the Lebanon Senior Citizen Center remained closed Sept. 1 to the surprise of center personnel and members after Gov. Bill Lee extended his COVID-19 state of emergency executive order.

Lee’s executive order included the limitations on visitations for nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and continued the closure of senior citizen centers throughout the state.

Lebanon Senior Center assistant director Teresa Botts said the center scrambled to find a last-minute sponsor for its takeout meals program after senior center staff believed it could reopen after the governor’s executive order was set to expire.

Botts said the center received about 100 calls from members who did not know about the governor’s extension.

Lebanon Senior Center director Patti Watts said ideally the center would be open, but said she has not spoken with Lee to discuss the issue. Watts noted the Lebanon Senior Citizens Center is one of the three largest in the state.

“We probably hear several times a week, ‘Death has got to be better than this.’ We don’t understand why the governor is categorizing us with live-in health facilities. These are adults that should be able to make their own decisions whether or not they want to attend a group activity,” Watts said.

A spokesman for the governor had not responded to requests for comments about keeping the senior centers closed.

Watts and Botts said they’ve noticed the difference with the center’s members, including stamina loss, depression and loneliness after the center was forced to close in March amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They noted the daily lunch meals have been a small bright spot for members and staff after it began in July.

“We’ve been really concerned about them. We see a definite decline in their health and wellbeing. From our perspective, we need to get them back here and start interacting with people and being active again,” Watts said. “We did so much in preparation for them to be able to come back in.”

“It helps them out so much with their daily living because a lot of them can’t cook for themselves. Just being able to help them and help raise their emotional spirits and love on them is the biggest thing for me,” Botts said.

Botts said the center typically serves about 50-60 meals a day through its drive-up service, which includes members like Carolyn Russell, who appreciate the social interaction that comes with the meal pickup.

“It’s wonderful. I thought I was going to get to come back this week,” Russell said. “I lost my husband in 2015. I love people and I love getting out. I entered in the (Wilson County) Fair every year and volunteer. It’s been a struggle because I’m not used to being quiet.”

Sales Director Michael Tonietti represented sponsor Elmcroft Senior Living during a recent drive-through lunch service and said he felt it was necessary to spread love to the senior community during this time.

“Just being able to help them and help raise their emotional spirits and love on them is the biggest thing for me,” Tonietti said.

Botts said that despite the closure, the center saw more than 500 members renew their annual membership to the center in July,

For information on the center’s takeout meal program, call (615) 449-4600 or go to the center’s Facebook page - Lebanon Senior Citizens Center.

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