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Caregiver's Closet new resource for Living at Home

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Caregiver support coach Jill Grimes shows some of the items that are available free of charge for caregivers to use. The goal of the Caregivers Closet at Living at Home of the Park Rapids Area is to offer this support to any caregiver in the community.
Contributed / Connie Carmichael
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Living at Home of the Park Rapids Area (LAH) has a new resource for caregivers.

The Caregiver’s Closet makes items available to those caring for a family member at home, at no cost.

LAH Executive Director Connie Carmichael said the program’s goal is to provide items caregivers need to help the family member stay in their home.

For caregivers, Carmichael said receiving donations of needed items takes off some of the financial burden.

Tami Hensel is one of those caregivers.

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"After my mom broke her leg, Living at Home opened their Caregiver Closet to us,” she said. “Just that day, someone had donated a portable wheelchair with a raised leg extension. I don't know how we would have been able to transfer mom without it."

Carmichael said having the items needed to care for a family member helps them be able to stay in their home rather than going to a nursing home or an assisted living facility.

“Anyone who is a caregiver, whether they are connected with our program or not, can make an appointment to come in by calling our office and take whatever they think would make their journey of caregiving easier,” she said.

Some of the items donated, so far, include walkers, canes, shower benches, an IV pole and a new Jitterbug cell phone. Carmichael said when caregivers are done using this type of item the intent is that they will return it, so another caregiver can use it.

“We also accept unopened personal care products, like disposable undergarments, bandages and nutritional supplements,” she said, adding disposable undergarments are very expensive.

“We’ve gotten cases donated,” she said. “We’ve partnered with hospice, so when people lose a loved one they have these products and items they don’t know what to do with. They donate them to us and we turn them over to someone in need.”

The Caregiver’s Closet is currently located in an office space in the same building with LAH.

Carmichael said attorneys Thomason, Swanson and Zahn have generously donated the use of part of an office that they only use intermittently so they can display things that are available to caregivers. In the future, Living at Home is also looking for a bigger space so they will be able to accept larger donations like hospital beds and lift chairs.

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“We’re hoping to get indoor heated storage,” Carmichael said. “We have set aside some funds to help cover some of that cost.”

$107,000 grant

LAH recently received a $107,000 Live Well At Home Grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services to support aging Minnesotans, to use for core operating expenses.

“It’s so we can continue to expand our services,” Carmichael said. “The goal is to help older adults stay healthy, independent and involved in their communities. We’re celebrating our 30th year of service and this will help us continue to provide those services.”

LAH provides local and long-distance transportation, light housekeeping, repair services, friendly visits and phone calls, ramp building, respite care, youth mentoring and dementia education and awareness.

The program serves all of Hubbard County, the Menahga community, Osage and Two Inlets.

More requests for friendly visits

“We especially need volunteers in the northern part of Hubbard County,” she said. “We hardly have any volunteers in that area, and we do occasionally get calls from people there who need transportation or grocery shopping. Sometimes it’s hard to fill those requests because we don’t have volunteers in that area.”

She said, since COVID restrictions were lifted the program has had many more requests for friendly visiting and activities.

”We’re seeing more people reach out for services than ever before,” she said. “We also sponsor coffee on Wednesdays from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Park Rapids Senior Center. That’s free and open to all seniors. We provide the coffee and treats. It’s a time for socialization and it’s growing.”

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“Our respite service has increased by many, many hours,” Carmichael said. “We need volunteers who can come two to four hours per week to sit with someone so the caregiver can go to the doctor, get groceries or whatever they need and not worry about their loved one.”

Volunteers providing respite care through LAH do not do any personal care or bathroom or medication assistance.

“It’s a friendly visitor, someone to sit with them so they’re not alone. Many times, especially with dementia, you can’t leave your loved one alone.”

Volunteers receive information about the person they will be caring for and tips for activities they can do while visiting. They also try to match people with similar interests.

Carmichael said the joy of helping someone in need is the reward for volunteering. “We hear that all of the time,” she said. “Volunteers say it touches their hearts to be able to help.”

A need for drivers, too

Drivers willing to take people to doctor appointments in Fargo and Bemidji are especially needed.

“The need for long-distance drivers has really increased,” Carmichael said. “We always need volunteers who are willing to do temporary light housekeeping for people while someone is recovering from an illness or surgery. It might be vacuuming, doing some dishes, helping with a load of laundry or other things around the house.”

LAH also maintains a list of resources available in the community they can email to residents.

“If someone needs a caregiver for hire, a homemaker, someone to plow and shovel, we can provide names and phone numbers,” Carmichael said.

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