Tishomingo nonprofit organizes COVID-19 Response Team to help provide emergency services for seniors

Sierra Rains
One Johnston County family had their children create letters of encouragement to be placed in emergency care packages being distributed to the elderly. INCA-RSVP Director Wanda Gray said a child traced their hand to create the card pictured.

A nonprofit organization based in Tishomingo is partnering with other Johnston County organizations to provide emergency care packages for seniors sheltering at home amid the spread of COVID-19.

INCA-RSVP, a retired senior volunteer program, normally connects volunteers ages 55 and older with service opportunities in their communities; but with seniors being encouraged to stay in their homes, director Wanda Gray said she wanted to do something to help support and give back to the seniors.

“They need us. People need things, especially our seniors and I think they deserve the hand back after all that they’ve given to America,” Gray said. “When the senior sites started closing, where they go to eat a lot at lunch, a lot of these people had nothing. They were just told to stay home and that’s it.”

Gray said the nonprofit already had a disaster program in place called ‘Be Ready’, which was initially thought to be used to help seniors receive food and supplies during extreme weather situations.

“This isn’t the kind of disaster we thought we were gonna deal with, but it falls into place,” Gray said.

With the help of the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce, Johnston County Emergency Management and Our Neighbors Cupboard — a local food bank — INCA-RSVP organized a COVID-19 Response Team to help implement this program, among other services for seniors during this time.

Volunteers at INCA-RSVP are currently filling insulated tote bags full of a wide variety of items donated by community members and are expecting to be able to serve at least 500 seniors in the area. “And we think we can expand on that if we need to,” Gray said.

Gray said the list of items collected so far includes things such as toilet paper, paper towels, shampoo, crackers, crossword puzzle books, flashlights, emergency whistles, pill box reminders and greeting cards, among other things.

“The crossword puzzles and word searches are really important to try to give them something to turn off the TV and get their mind on something different,” Gray said.

A volunteer will drop off the package at the senior’s door and leave. However, Gray said volunteers will hold onto the senior’s contact information in order to keep in touch with them.

“We’re going to call them back next week and the week after for as long as this goes on to see what needs aren’t being met and to try to find resources for them,” Gray said. “We may not be able to fill all of them but we at least have to try.”

At this time, Gray said they are in dire need of donations of canned meat and soup, as well as letters of encouragement to include in the emergency care packages.

While staying home from school, one family had their children create personal, handmade cards for the seniors — which is something Gray said she hopes to receive more of.

“We can put these words of encouragement in there, too. I think that’s really important that they see that people care,” Gray said. “There’s one where I started tearing up, it shows a child’s hand, the child traced their hand and they wrote on there ‘If you’re scared you can hold my hand’.”

Anyone can donate anything essential to daily life, Gray said. Items may be dropped off at INCA, located at 202 S. Capital in Tishomingo or at Sooners Foods, a grocery store in Tishomingo.

For those who are unable to travel to those locations, Gray said arrangements can be made to have donations picked up. “We have a whole group of volunteers that are ready to do that,” Gray said.

Seniors needing assistance can call INCA-RSVP Senior Corps’s COVID-19 hotline at (580) 308-1809. The hotline will be in operation Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and with voice message after hours.

Gray said seniors can also use the hotline to find available resources through community partners or to receive answers to questions regarding COVID-19.

“We started putting together a resource manual so we can refer them to someone else that has the services they’re needing or we can take a list of what they’re looking for,” Gray said. “If they need some kind of diabetic supply and they can’t get it then we can reach out to some of our resources and try to help find that.”

The program is currently expected to run through at least April 30. However, Gray said they will continue providing emergency care packages and other services for seniors until the need is no longer there.

“We’ll take it a month at a time, but the need will change I think as things evolve and come April 30, we’ll know if there’s a different need than what we currently have or if there’s something we need to expand on that we’re not doing now.”