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They've been aging in place -- and lately, sheltering at home -- so it was time to get together for a picnic

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - Celebrating being in-person for the first time in a year, at an outdoor picnic, were many members of nonprofit Eastside Village from different neighborhoods. Shown, from left: Pat Sanders, Montavilla; Mary Bedard, Cherry Park; Ann Gaffke (seen sideways with black mask), Richmond; and Shirley Clifford, Westmoreland.The members of "Eastside Village" – the local East Portland nonprofit that supports "aging in place" – not only help each other out with rides, post-surgery aid, the cleaning of yards, carrying heavy things, or screwing in very-high-up light bulbs, but they also have fun together.

On a Sunday noon before Oregon ended all pandemic restrictions, a group of sixty E.V. members met for a picnic in person for the first time in a year. All had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and were eager to see each other's smiles in real life – rather than via ZOOM, or lurking behind a mask.

A few of Eastside Village's technologically-savvy members had helped other members get vaccine appointments – so they could all mingle once again in person when the right time came. "Many were driven to appointments by our volunteer drivers," Jin Darney informed THE BEE, while on a stroll in Woodstock.

The chosen day for the outdoor picnic turned out to be a bit drizzly; it was held at a location central to the group – Grant Park's covered area off of N.E. 36th Avenue. Gathering from Southeast and Northeast Portland, everyone brought his or her own chair to sit in, along with something to eat.

Because E.V. members come from a large geographic area in East Portland – the E.V. office is at Trinity United Methodist Church on Steele Street and S.E. Chavez Blvd., the former 39th Avenue, in Woodstock – the five dozen people at the picnic were divided into four circles representing different neighborhood areas.

"That way we can get to know our close-by neighbors a little better," observed Woodstock resident Anne-Marie Dallaire from her picnic chair. "We thought we might lose members during the pandemic, but instead 24 new people joined, because they realized they needed the Village."

"I am very grateful for the fruition of E.V.; it is bigger than we ever thought [it would be]", remarked Derianna Mooney, who was an original founding member, and is a Creston-Kenilworth resident.

"Derianna brought the Village idea to Portland," confided Mooney's neighbor, Marnie McPhee, referring to the original concept that began in Boston. "She had the energy [for starting it]. I already had a lot of friends; but now after joining a year and a half ago, I have many more of them, with the village. During COVID-19, E.V. was a lifeline. "We had walks, backyard visits, and inspired each other with our gardens. We found we were getting to know each other better – both old and new members – by engaging with each other during ZOOM meetings. The E.V. Council found things the organization could do during COVID: People started making masks; and then each of us was given two masks."

Woodstock resident Jim O'Connor said he and his wife had always enjoyed the lively and fun conversations with Eastside Village people.  O'Connor's wife died last January and he was grateful to be a part of E.V. at that time. "E.V. members provided a lot of sympathy and support, as well as meals and flowers," he remarked.

When the gathered members finished eating their lunch, Mary Beth Young, a Woodstock resident who had suggested the idea of the picnic – and had been a principal organizer, along with Peg Farrell and Derianna Mooney – announced that those present would break into different circles and play a game: Asking each other where they were born.

After twenty minutes of the resulting animated conversations, Young – clearly a "picnic spark plug" – called out to everyone a few of the more distant places where members had been born: Calcutta, India; Johannesburg, South Africa; the Czech Republic; Germany; Manchester, England – and it turned out there was a large group present who had been born in the upper Midwest.

Ann Gaffke, a Richmond resident, commented that E.V. members working together can network, and get helpful and fun things done. "Our plant sale raised $5,128 for the Open Bible Church food pantry [in the South Tabor neighborhood] where I volunteer," revealed Gaffke. "The Oregon Food Bank can only give so much, so the pantry was grateful."

At the picnic's end, Young remarked, "Despite the blustery weather, we had a good time hugging and seeing each other again. Now we can resume our lunches, potlucks, sing-a-longs, Hallowe'en mask contests, and Bunco – and knitting groups."

To learn more about the village, and the ways it can help older residents to continue living in their own home, go online – www.eastsidevillage.org


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