A Lifeline for Older Adults in Columbus, Ohio

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By AARP

With a population nearing 900,000, Columbus, Ohio, is the largest municipality in the state and 14th largest in the US. It is Ohio’s state capital as well as home to Ohio State University and headquarters for five Fortune 500 companies. Combined with the rest of Franklin County, the area is home to about 1.3 million residents, 12 percent of who are age 65 or older. 

Columbus joined the  AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities  in 2015. Franklin County followed in 2018. The region’s age-friendly initiative is called Age-Friendly Columbus and Franklin County. 

The Challenge 

“When COVID hit the front pages of Central Ohio newspapers, we anticipated older adults would have limited access to resources, resulting in increased social isolation and food insecurity,” says Katie White, Director, Age-Friendly Columbus and Franklin County. “We also immediately saw that needs spanned the entire county, not just Columbus.” 

The Response 

The age-friendly group sprang into action, contacting community partners that have a continual pulse on needs, challenges, and opportunities throughout the region. 

Two emergency responses were quickly designed with Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resources Center, implemented, and funded The Friendly Phone Line  and  Older Adults ‘Necessity Bags.’  Both programs were up and running remarkably quickly—within three business daysthanks to an ongoing collaboration between the network and anchor institution partners 

Students, staff, and faculty volunteers from  The Ohio State University College of Social Work  speaks by phone with older adults in the community, providing an opportunity for older people to socialize and get questions answered without the fear of contracting COVID.  

The Older Adult Necessity Bags project offers three to five days’ worth of shelf-stable food — depending on what’s available for purchase from the  Mid-Ohio Foodbank — as well as personal care items such as soap, shampoo, and toilet paper. They are distributed by city and suburban officials, community partners, and Age-Friendly network volunteers. Bags are also delivered to 10 low-income older adult housing complexes as well as older individuals experiencing homelessness who are seeking shelter at the YMCA. An important collaborator has been the Ohio Hotel & Lodging Association, which enlisted 12 businesses to donate personal care items.  

A Necessity Bag for Residents in Need in and Around Columbus, Oh
Among items included in “Necessity Bags” are travel-size toiletries and useful materials such as a list of emergency contacts, community resources, notes of encouragement and Census 2020 information.

“Through these partnerships, we’re able to reach a much wider audience in both numbers and location,” White says. The project was made possible through $12,000 in funding from the  Columbus City Council. An additional $20,000 in funding from the Franklin County Board of Commissioners will help continue the program through the summer. 

This story is being shared through the AARP-NLC COVID-19 Older Adult Response Initiative.  Share your story with NLC and AARP here.

The Results, Thus Far 

In the period from March 16 through April 26, Friendly Phone Line volunteers made more than 700 calls to isolated older adults. More than 1,200 Necessity Bags—packed with 15,000 pounds of food and 5,000 personal care items—have been distributed across 43 zip codes. 

Older residents have been so grateful,” White reports. One caller said “It was like Christmas going out there and finding that package”. Another said she had been feeling in a dark place and credits the volunteers with lighting her candle. 

A full-length interview is available on AARP.org/Livable at this link.

Response Partners 

Age-Friendly Columbus and Franklin County 

The Ohio State University College of Social Work 

Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resources Center 

Village in the Ville 

Columbus City Council 

Franklin County Office on Aging 

Ohio Hotel & Lodging Association 

 A full-length interview is available on AARP.org/Livable at this link.  

Reporting, writing and editing by AARP (Shoshana Preuss, Melissa Stanton, Jay Walljasper, Mike Watson) 

This story is being shared as part of the AARP-NLC COVID-19 Older Adult Response Initiative.