SAN ANTONIO – As Bexar County gets ready to hit the grim number of 5,000 deaths in the COVID-19 pandemic, one group of high-risk individuals is defying the odds.
While senior citizens are at highest risk for complications due to the virus, there’s a group of them at Blessed Angels Community Center in San Antonio that are figuring out how to live with it, even in this latest surge of positive cases.
The group meets twice a week for exercise, medical checkups and bingo, but also for restocking their kitchen cupboards and COVID booster shots. Amid all the business, there’s socializing, eating, celebrating, and fun.
They are all fully up to date on their vaccines, but while on a couple of them have contracted the virus over the last two years, they have watched younger family members suffer and die. Willie May Gray is one of them, having lost her adult son.
“He had just turned 54, and I just lost him four months ago today,” said Gray, who added that her son was fully vaccinated and he had no underlying medical conditions.
Marty Villareal can relate to what happened to Gray. Her son’s family was hit hard by COVID, and among the casualties was her beloved 29-year old granddaughter.
“She walked into the hospital, but she never came out. She passed away,” Villareal said with tears in her eyes. She, and others at Blessed Angels, said they don’t understand why they have survived while their younger family members have not.
“I tell my other children to get vaccinated, get their shots, wear your mask and try to stay safe,” Villareal said.
The emotional losses have been rolling in for more than a year, but the seniors credit the community center for keeping them healthy, not just physically, but mentally too.
“It helps me so much being here with all these people. If it weren’t for coming out here it would just be hard,” Villareal said.
There’s a feeling of being in it together that is woven into the practicality of visiting Blessed Angels. It’s got an in-house store packed with staples that have become hard to find these days. While spaghetti and toilet paper may be a hit or miss find at local grocery stores, the San Antonio Food Bank and the center’s shopping trips to local stores complete the weekly offerings to these seniors. Many of these clients are caring for their grandchildren, so they rely on these perks.
“I’ve got my booster and I’m raising my 6-year old grandson and he’s had is first and second shots, and last week we got tested and were negative,” Gray said. At 82, Gray is at high risk but feels she needs to mingle with people her age.
The center’s director, Marion Thomas said she’s had to change a few rules. Instead of a “take all you need and want” rule in the store, there are signs now that limit each center client to one or two products each.
“That’s our goal, to help them all that we can because they can’t get around, so we try to bring it to them,” Thomas said.
That goes for their health care too. Everyone is vaccinated, masked, distanced, and when the last bingo number is called, a team of volunteers sanitizes all the surfaces.