Many senior residents of The Colony rely on SPAN transportation. 

As The Colony prepares for its 2021-22 fiscal year budget there may be some slight changes to the services offered by SPAN, which provides transportation and meal delivery services to individuals with disabilities, seniors and veterans.

Services were altered by the COVID-19 pandemic beginning in the spring of 2020 but not halted.

“Through COVID we never stopped, not one day, providing the services that we need to make sure the citizens of Denton County get whatever they need to keep going,” said Michelle McMahon, executive director of SPAN.

One of the services SPAN has offered is home food delivery, or Meals on Wheels.

Before the pandemic SPAN delivered one hot meal to seniors Mondays through Fridays. That ended in March of 2020 when the pandemic began. SPAN then shifted to a schedule of delivering five frozen meals to seniors on Mondays only.

“That was sad because it wasn’t just a meal it was also socialization for our seniors,” said Christine Herrera, programs operations manager for SPAN. “But what we did to make up for that is we would visit on Mondays, and on Wednesdays and Fridays we’d give them a phone call to check in.”

But Herrera said beginning Aug. 23 SPAN will resume the once-a-day hot meal delivery.

She said in the 2020-21 fiscal year SPAN has delivered 7,656 meals to 84 clients in The Colony.

“Our home delivered meal service grew because we were able to add seniors to the program who otherwise would not qualify for our meal service,” Herrera said. “They’re still driving, they’re still out and about, but we wanted to keep them from being out and about and keep them home and not have to be food insecure.”

SPAN also provided transportation for seniors to the senior center for congregate meals. That, too, paused with the pandemic.

“We decided not to have congregate (service) right now since it might not be the right time with COVID numbers going back up,” Herrera said. “And unfortunately our seniors are our most vulnerable population.”

Another change in 2021-22 could be extra funding by the city to provide 25 free trips for residents who seek assistance from the Next Steps program.

Next Steps offers various family crisis services such as rent and utility assistance.

If approved in the budget by the City Council next month the city would provide extra funding to Next Steps so their clients wouldn’t have to pay the fare for SPAN rides.

Joe Perez, the city’s director of community relations and programming, said these rides could be for people who need transportation for job interviews, appointments to get vital records, etc.

“It doesn’t happen often, but there have been occasions when clients of Next Steps are faced with this situation,” Perez said. “So when that occurs there would be a resource available to transport the client to their appointment that isn’t a trip covered by Medicare/Medicaid, etc.” 

SPAN recently received CARES Act funding, which will cover general purpose trips. It doesn’t, however, cover trips to the senior center. The City Council directed the city staff to allocate $7,500 to cover trips to the senior center, as the city has done in past years.

“Our seniors, they’ve gone through so much as far as isolations and all the issues they’ve faced,” said Councilman David Terre. “We want to do everything we can to make their life as easy and productive as we can outside of what you consider to be the necessities.”

Dianne Beck, mobility manager, said from October of 2020 to July of 2021 there have been 3,088 trips in the county. Job training for the disabled represents the largest use with 1,129 trips, followed by medical (797) and employment (776).

Beck said because of the pandemic SPAN is taking extra safety precautions, such as fogging the vehicles and requiring masks for drivers and passengers. Other efforts include providing hand sanitizer and encouraging social distancing. Riders are screened before being allowed on the bus.

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