With less daylight and cooler temperatures, winter can often leave us feeling isolated. That can be especially harder for older adults who live alone. Fortunately, through its Office of Aging, Franklin County Parks and Recreation offers programs and activities geared specifically for seniors.

In the latest issue of Playbook, a catalog of activities published quarterly by the department, participation in those programs is growing, according to Parks and Recreation Director Paul Chapman.

“Last year over 25,000 people attended one of over 800 different activities offered at the Essig Recreation Center,” Chapman wrote in the publication’s introduction. “Programs for seniors has especially grown as attendance has doubled from over 7,000 people in 2015 to over 14,000 people in 2019.”

For adults 50 and older, the Essig Center hosts activities such as beginner bridge, mahjong, tai chi, brown bag bingo and line dancing, as well as blood pressure and hearing screenings. Playbook also lists meet-ups at area restaurants, as well as longer trips, including one to Wohlfahrt Dinner Theatre in Wytheville in February and another to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum in Staunton in April.

This year there’s even a “Surviving Winter Workshop,” which can teach class participants “how to prepare mentally and physically to combat the season,” according to the course description.

While some of these activities charge an admission fee to pay for instructors, others are free. Take, for example, the senior cafe and conversation, which is held every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the center.

Provided by STEP, Inc. for seniors 60 and older, the free event provides a “hot meal, socialization, education and conversation,” according to the Playbook description. The only requirement is that participants register first, either in person or by calling the Essig Center.

Because seniors are most likely to live on a fixed income, the choice between paying bills and having food available can be a real possibility.

To help the area’s homebound seniors, the Office of Aging is hosting its fourth annual Soup of Seniors food drive. During the first week of February, the office will collect soups, crackers, canned meats and peanut butter to put into reusable cloth shopping bags and distribute to qualifying seniors.

Last year more than 5,300 canned goods were collected, and 275 bags were given to seniors in need, according to Marcia Cramblitt, manager of recreation and Office of Aging.

“We hope to top that this year,” Cramblitt said in a news release. “The more we collect, the more we can help.”

Food donations can be dropped off at the Essig Center, 295 Technology Drive, Rocky Mount, from Feb. 3 through 7 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. The bags of food will be distributed by the third week of February.

Thankfully this program can help area seniors through a bleak season by providing warm, nourishing food that they might not otherwise receive.

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