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Corona del Mar’s Oasis Senior Center gives away 1,800 masks as it stays busy during coronavirus pandemic

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Newport Beach City Councilwoman Joy Brenner pitches in during a drive-by mask giveaway Thursday outside the Oasis Senior Center in Corona del Mar.
(Susan Hoffman)

The Oasis Senior Center may be closed during the coronavirus pandemic, but that doesn’t mean senior citizens are forgotten.

Among the ways the center in Corona del Mar has been helping was a drive-by mask giveaway Thursday.

Mike Zimmerman, president of Friends of Oasis, the nonprofit support organization that works with the center, jumped at the chance to buy 1,000 protective masks for the group’s members through a T-shirt business run by the son of Oasis social services supervisor Susie DiGiovanna.

“Some will be used for Meals on Wheels delivery, for our kitchen staff, for Friends of Oasis and city staff employees and whoever needs masks,” Zimmerman said.

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Mike Zimmerman, president of Friends of Oasis, and Celeste Jardine-Haug, senior services manager for the Oasis Senior Center, pass out bags holding four masks each to Oasis members Thursday.
(Susan Hoffman)

With cars backed up as far as San Joaquin Hills Road to the north and East Coast Highway to the south, the 1,000 white-and-blue disposable masks were gone within the first 20 minutes of the giveaway.

But coincidentally, DiGiovanna had gone to Santa Fe Springs to pick up an additional 1,000 masks that her son Michael MacGregor of the Forecast Agency donated earlier in the day.

While the line of cars continued onto the senior center property, people patiently awaited their turn to receive the four-mask-per-family allotment.

“It worked out beyond our wildest dreams,” Zimmerman said. “We gave away 1,800 masks to about 450 cars.”

He said his group is trying to secure more masks for future giveaways.

According to Celeste Jardine-Haug, Oasis’ senior services manager, responding to homebound seniors has kept the staff and volunteers busy.

“To me, what a senior center is for is to keep people engaged in life and socialized,” Jardine-Haug said. “Social isolation is really difficult for those at an advanced age and who are not able to talk with people.”

The GoldenTalk senior chat and crisis line, launched by former Costa Mesa resident Kimberly Lewis, founder of the I Did Something Good Today Foundation, serves Californians 60 and older and has almost 200 volunteers.

A joint effort among Oasis staff, Age Well Senior Services and Friends of Oasis has kept things running, according to Jardine-Haug.

“Our staff have been working every day making sure that senior services are still being provided,” she said. “I have transportation still running for essential services and staff helping with meal delivery, as some volunteers have chosen to stay at home.”

With many seniors missing out on social activities normally provided by the center, Oasis has increased the list of seniors it calls daily as part of a telephone reassurance program.

“We call people and touch base so they are not lonely,” Jardine-Haug said. “Even [Newport Beach] Mayor Will O’Neill called 10 people and offered to do more.”

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A team of Oasis Senior Center volunteers packs a second delivery of 1,000 masks to give away as recipients waited outside in their cars Thursday.
(Susan Hoffman)

Jardine-Haug said she has a rotating staff that responds to email and phone messages to ensure people receive the help they need. The messages range from general inquiries to requests for assistance with food and toilet paper and sometimes “to go check on Mom.”

“One Meals on Wheels recipient who lives alone called the meals coordinator saying, ‘My smoke detector is chirping, battery needs changing and I can’t do it,’” Jardine-Haug said. ”Jose Cardenas, one of our van drivers, went to her house with a new battery and changed them.”

The van, typically used for transportation, is now, with fewer riders, delivering goods such as frozen food and toilet paper that Oasis purchased.

The Newport Beach Recreation & Senior Services Department has put together an online recreation class site, and the Oasis fitness center has a daily fitness challenge for people to do at home.

Susan Hoffman is a contributor to Times Community News.

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