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Claremonters shift to life with social distancing

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

The scene at Claremont’s Trader Joes last weekend was surreal as would-be shoppers picked through the scant items left on an endless sea of empty shelves while Don Henley’s “The End of the Innocence” played on the sound system. It was the start to a very long and confusing week in Claremont.

Every day the big news outlets announced another unbelievable development as the coronavirus—and the disease it causes: COVID-19—slowly brought the nation to a halt. Here in Claremont, people seemed to be adjusting to the rapidly changing situation while going about their daily tasks in an effort to hold on to some sense of normalcy.

On Monday Claremont residents, and business partners, Jeff Abrego and Edwin Villa, were just finishing lunch at the Village Grille while other residents busily attended to errands.

The pair own the commercial window covering company Modern Daylighting and the Grille is where they hold all of the company’s important meetings.

“We like to support local business because we are a local business,” Mr. Villa said.

“People seem to be in good spirits. We are getting good service and the food is good,” Mr. Abrego said, adding that they would continue to eat at the Grille as long as it remained open.

Claremont City Hall, the Hughes Center, the Claremont Helen Renwick Library and both of the senior centers are all closed. All recreation centers are closed and people can no longer rent public facilities including reserved picnic areas in our parks.

The city of Claremont said Saturday through a statement shared on social media by City Manager Tara Schultz that it intended to declare a local state of emergency.

The city also transitioned its senior nutrition program from the traditional dine-in lunches at Joslyn and Blaisdell senior centers to drive-up distribution two days a week. Seniors can show up at Joslyn on Mondays and Wednesdays at 11 a.m. for the free food they ordinarily would have enjoyed in the center’s dining room.

Claremont has a contract with Los Angeles County to serve 120 meals a day, so workers will distribute five days worth of food in two days. On Monday they will give out enough to cover two days while Wednesday disbursements will cover the rest of the week.

On Wednesday a long line of cars queued up in front of Joslyn, snaking back onto Harrison Avenue. The number of cars was a bit of an alarm for workers who worried that there would not be enough food.

A team of city employees directed traffic, kept a list of names, and handed out the neatly wrapped meals which included tuna, chicken and turkey with bread to make sandwiches as well as a couple types of salad and a drink.

Deputy Director of Human Services Melissa Vollaro said she was trying to remain positive in a very trying situation.

“This is the kind of stuff we train and plan for, as far as emergency preparedness,” she said.

The senior centers will remain closed until further notice so curbside distribution will be the new normal. This also means that many of the seniors will lose one of their main avenues for socialization. Ms. Vollaro mentioned that the non-profit Aging Next has outreach for people who are experiencing loneliness due to self isolation.

The mood in the food line was upbeat with plenty of words of praise from the seniors.

“The meal program for seniors is just great,” resident Burton Mack said as he picked up his lunches.

“People have been so gracious and have a great sense of humor,’ Ms. Vollaro added.

As the line of cars slowly dwindled it appeared that demand would not completely exceed supply, with only a handful of people turned away once the food was gone. Staffers did take the names of those who left empty handed and let them know about the food pantry at Joslyn.

Inland Valley Hope Partners host the food pantry in the annex building at Joslyn on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. In addition to non-perishable foods, the group also offers some toiletries. Additionally the city is tentatively partnering with local restaurants that have recently closed because of the virus to provide additional meals.

The panic buying that started last week seems to have tapered off in part because grocery retailers have instituted some new policies. At Trader Joes, employees only allow a few customers into the store at a time, which has resulted in a line out front that starts before the store opens.

Upon seeing the line one frustrated shopper left empty handed. As she tucked her colorful reusable bags under an arm she complained to everyone and no one, “We are supposed to be practicing social distancing.”

Kira Blumberg had a completely different reaction as she put groceries into her vehicle. “This was one of the nicest Trader Joes shopping experiences ever,” Ms. Blumberg said. She waited only ten minutes for her chance to shop and once inside she found the store to be uncrowded and the shelves mostly well stocked.

“There was no TP but other than that I got everything I needed,” she said.

Taken as a whole, this week reminds one of a different song, REM’s “It’s the End of the World.” For those of you unfamiliar with the song it ends with the words: “And I feel fine.”

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