During these days of self-quarantining and social distancing, three Huntington-area women are working together to ensure local seniors have what they need.
With health care professionals and elected officials recommending the elderly stay home during the novel coronavirus pandemic, Erin Whelan, Amanda McCrea and Kristin O’Leary decided they needed to do something for the community’s senior members. Whelan, a phlebotomist/accessioner at Huntington Hospital who lives in Northport, said during a phone interview she reached out to the Town of Huntington’s director of Senior Division, Julia Frangione, to see what was needed and offered to make care packages with her friends for those who receive services from the facility.
“We noticed a lot of elderly people looking very lost in the supermarkets with empty shelves and chaos,” Whelan said.
McCrea added that with shoppers needing to visit multiple stores to get everything on their lists, they realized shopping had become a chore for many.
In the last couple of weeks, the women have been busy creating care packages with essentials such as toilet paper, wipes, bread or English muffins, coffee or tea, oatmeal, cookies and more. They have even added things like crossword puzzles to keep recipients entertained.
“We attached a personal note on each one just to let them know their community is thinking of them,” Whelan said. “We’re all in this together.
Putting together essentials for those in need is nothing new for the three women, who for the last few years have worked together filling backpacks with school supplies and donating them to the Family Service League in Huntington.
McCrea, who also works in Huntington Hospital’s laboratory, said it was Whelan who came up with the idea.
“I can’t ever say ‘no’ to her ideas,” she said. “Who doesn’t want to do good things and feel good?”
The women said that in order to get the items together they had to visit multiple stores. One day they spent about seven hours hunting for items. The women have been balancing the endeavor with work, as Whelan and McCrea are considered essential employees, and O’Leary, who teaches in the Merrick school district, is working from home and teaching online.
McCrea said it’s been worthwhile making the time to pick up these essential items, despite all of them still working their full-time jobs.
“We’ve all kind of made the time, and it gives us something positive to focus on,” she said.
Whelan and McCrea said they have received help from several friends, some of whom have given their time, while others have donated money.
“It just kind of snowballed with so many people wanting to help,” Whelan said.
McCrea said one day when they only had 30 rolls of toilet paper they posted their dilemma on Facebook, and a friend sent them a message saying where they could find some. Within an hour, with others helping them, they went from 30 rolls to more than 180.
So far, each care package has cost them around $17 dollars, and they have put together 55 packs and are planning to create more. On March 23, they were able to drop off the first of the packages that filled three cars at the Huntington Senior Center.
Frangione said the carloads were welcomed.
“We were happy to distribute these bonus items to our seniors,” she said. “We were amazed when 55 overflowing bags were delivered. It was so heartwarming, it brought tears to our eyes. The next day, the bags were distributed to our seniors who were truly touched by the thoughtfulness and caring of our friends in the community.”
Approximately 350 seniors receive meals from the center, which last Tuesday began delivering all five meals for the week in one day.
Whelan said that helping the seniors has taken stress and anxiety away.
“I’m a frontline person in the hospital,” she said. “It takes a toll on you, it’s stressful. There’s anxiety. I feel that we’re all helping these seniors, and we’re protecting the community from it spreading more, but we’re also helping ourselves because it’s something positive to focus on.”
To help with their endeavors, the women have set up a Facebook fundraiser page at www.facebook.com/donate/212883923126746/.