MANSFIELD ─ The elders were happy to attend the celebration only for them ─ even it was a drive-thru event.
The Ohio District 5 Area Agency on Aging hosted the 2021 Spring Senior Extravaganza on Monday at Richland County Fairgrounds. More than 200 senior citizens joined the activity to celebrate Older Americans Month.
Many people lined up at the gate before the door was open at 10 a.m. They participated in the “vendor parade” by visiting each organization’s table taking pamphlets, sampling chips, candies and all kinds of gifts.
Later in the morning, they enjoyed the free lunch and live music onsite in their cars.
Mary Ann Sautter, 87, and Betty Smollen, 86, were two of those early birds. The duo said they come to the event every year.
“Don’t stop” is the message that Smollen wanted to send to other elders, she said. The Ontario resident elaborated on the idea by showing a picture of her riding a Can-Am Spyder, a three-wheel motorcycle, on Sunday.
Nicole Williams, vice president of outreach and development for the Area Agency on Aging, said about 19 percent of Richland County’s population is 65 and older, according to the 2019 census report.
That percentage is higher than that of Ohio, 17 percent, and the U.S., 16 percent, Williams said.
The agency used to hold the annual event at the Renaissance Theatre before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. Williams said the agency tried to think of something out-of-the-box when planning the celebration this year.
The organizer was once hesitant to host the event, Williams said, but it also wanted to reduce social isolation through the celebration.
“Social isolation has always been a concern with seniors, but then COVID kind of made it even moreso because they're not able to get out as much as they want to,” the vice president said.
The theme for this year is Communities of Strength. Williams said the theme reflects that everyone came together and did what they needed to do even though last year was a difficult one.
The senior extravaganza was sponsored by UnitedHealthcare, CareSource and many other community organizations. About 30 vendors participated on Monday.
Latonda Williams, operations director for Liberty Nursing Center of Mansfield, said it's a wonderful idea to give the seniors who are used to participating in the event on a yearly basis some sense of normalcy with the drive-thru option.
She said the nursing home gave out wireless cell phone chargers to help the elders come into more of the technological age.
Eleanor Debaltzo came to the fairgrounds with her husband, Don, on Monday. She said the vendors talked and explained things more this year, which helped her better understand their service.