Suzanne Goldstein has been working from home, but on Wednesday she ventured out to pick up medication and groceries, mostly fruits and vegetables.
The items weren’t for her.
They were for an older couple who sought help from the town of Glenville’s new senior assistance program.
Launched earlier this week, the program enlists volunteers such as Goldstein to shop for older residents who would rather not go out at a time when the number of local coronavirus cases is growing and public health experts are advising people to stay home and avoid crowds.
If there’s a bright spot in all the uncertainty and fearfulness, it’s that people are stepping up to help those most in need.
“I’m definitely sympathetic to our older population in our community,” Goldstein told me. “I want to do anything I can to keep those folks out of harm’s way.”
Health officials say that those over 60 -- and especially those over the age of 80 -- are particularly vulnerable to severe or fatal infection from COVID-19; most of the people dying from the virus have been in their 60s or older.
In times of crisis, there are always people who want to help, but might not know where to go or what to do. For those who wish to be of service, Glenville’s senior assistance program is a welcome outlet.
It’s also a model other local leaders might consider implementing in their own communities.
In all likelihood, the social distancing measures we’re being asked to observe will continue for weeks, even months, and programs that make it easier for vulnerable residents to get through the tough times ahead will prove valuable. Glenville’s program is set up to run through March 30, but could be extended.
Vicki Hillis, Glenville’s director of human services, told me that as of Wednesday morning she’d received well over 50 offers to volunteer.
The requests for assistance haven’t poured in as quickly, but awareness of the program has been growing, and I’d urge seniors to consider giving it a try. There’s no shame in asking for help, and when there’s a fleet of volunteers eager to be of assistance, why not take advantage of it?
Goldstein, 48, is a social worker whose job entails visiting seniors for a health care organization. She’s checking in with clients from home now, and said she’s spoken with a number of people who are “really worried” about coronavirus.
“They’re concerned about how they’re going to get their groceries or medicine if they don’t have someone who can go get them,” she said.
In Albany, Dannielle Hille -- a former neighbor of mine -- is mobilizing the grassroots organization she heads, A Block At a Time, to deliver food and other essentials to seniors and people with underlying health conditions.
The organization’s area of focus is Albany, but Hille said A Block At a Time is willing to fulfill requests from other communities. “We’re trying not to get too big, but if we get a request from someone outside of Albany, and I have someone who’s willing to go there, they’ll go,” she explained.
Hille’s program works a little differently from the Glenville program.
A volunteer -- right now, there are about 25 -- will be assigned to a person in need. Both individuals will be given a unique ID number; the volunteer will provide this number to the person in need to verify their identity. The person in need will provide a list of items and a method of payment, and the volunteer will run their errands.
Hille told me she expects demand for the program to grow in the coming weeks.
“We’ve heard from people who are feeling OK right now, but think there’s going to be a point where they need some help,” she said.
While Glenville’s program is geared toward Glenville and Scotia residents who are 55 or older, Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle said that anyone in need can ask for help. That includes people with underlying health issues - another population more at risk from severe or fatal infection.
Koetzle said he came up with the idea for the program after watching a news broadcast about an older couple who waited outside a market because they were afraid to go inside, eventually approaching a stranger -- who turned out to be trustworthy -- and asking her to purchase some items for them.
“People shouldn’t be at the mercy of begging and pleading to get what they need,” Koetzle said.
The Glenville program is designed to protect the confidentiality of those who do participate. Volunteers do the shopping, but the purchases are delivered by a town employee in a town vehicle.
Amy Aldrich, the State Farm insurance agent in Glenville, had already begun reaching out to clients age 75 and over to see if they needed anything when she learned about the town’s senior assistance program.
“Our slogan is, ‘Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there,’” Aldrich told me. “I want to be a good corporate neighbor.”
Aldrich made her first pick-up for the senior assistance program on Wednesday, buying food -- orange juice, eggs, bacon, etc. -- for a local household. Doing this made her feel “super good,” she said, adding “I wish there was a broader group of people I could help.”
I’ve found people’s willingness to help their neighbors inspiring -- a welcome sign of resilience, ingenuity and compassion from ordinary citizens during a difficult time.
“When there’s a disaster, it’s not the government that saves people, it’s people,” Hille said. “We have to rise up, and we will. We always do.”
Those seeking help from Glenville’s senior assistance program should contact Hillis at 518-374-0734 or [email protected]. Those interested in volunteering should also contact Hillis.
People looking for help from A Block At a Time should call 518-227-0012 or email [email protected]. Those interested in volunteering should also use this email, and put “helper” in the subject line.