When the state of Illinois ordered a lockdown last March due to increasing COVID-19 rates, many professionals, students and families were rapidly transferred to working and learning remotely.
There was an incredible group of people who responded to that change by deciding to volunteer. COVID-19 is a greater threat to older adults and those with compromised immune systems, and as a world, we were rapidly realizing that and responding.
One of my roles at Family Service is to recruit and train new volunteers for our senior services, and many are seniors themselves. Within 48 hours of the lockdown, I had many younger volunteers wanting to do whatever they could to protect local older adults.
Calls came from university professors and students, a real-estate agency, health care providers, a locally owned car dealership, friends and even families. I had as many people call in three weeks as I typically get in a year.
They responded to this threat by jumping in and saying, “Let me protect our most vulnerable.” It was just amazing. Some of those people are delivering meals or driving seniors eight months later.
Other groups mobilized immediately as well. United Way and the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois partnered to create a local COVID-19 relief fund and collected donations that helped many people with rent assistance, utilities and personal protective equipment during this pandemic.
Family Service received some of those funds. We bought cases of hard-to-find paper products and hygiene items and distributed them to older adults, so they stayed out of stores until it was safer.
Amy Huang, associate director of community impact at United Way of Champaign County, shared the full community impact of the COVID-19 relief fund with me: “Our COVID relief fund has been actively providing assistance to friends and neighbors most impacted by COVID-19 since March. Over $1.2 million has been provided for learning supports and out-of-school care, food, rent/mortgage, safety supplies and equipment.”
Meanwhile, those sheltering seniors were busy themselves. They sewed thousands of masks for local clinics and nonprofits like ours; one woman even made 2,000-plus masks.
During the summer, they sewed hundreds of children’s masks for returning students. In the fall, they made lap blankets for veterans and hospitals to be stocked for colder temps.
Our retired and senior volunteer program staff members have picked up masks and blankets to distribute and checked on our volunteers.
Family Service launched a new Friendly Caller program last spring, pairing either two older adults to call each other or an older adult to a younger volunteer. Callers provide a friendly check on one another and stave off social isolation. They connect regularly and chat about interests and topics they share in common.
Some seniors have continued to volunteer delivering Food for Seniors, Meals on Wheels or giving Senior Transportation rides. One of these volunteers has also been giving bridge lessons to Inman Place residents, and they’re really loving it.
It’s a great time to recognize all our local heroes that made a critical difference. At Family Service, we haven’t lost a single client or volunteer to COVID-
19; in fact, only a few have even contracted the illness. But we’re not alone — many of the local groups and businesses that serve older adults have similar stories to share.
It’s been the result of intentional efforts by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, health care services, senior living centers, senior services, media communications, store senior hours, volunteers and family and friends.
This is a great community success story, and Family Service wants to thank everyone who has given the gift of life this year.