Community steps up to help at-risk and needy during COVID-19 pandemic

Twenty years ago, Coretta Scott King said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”


Today, during a time of uncertainty and, yes, sometimes fear, those words ring ever true and are demonstrated throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region by multitudes of people who are stepping up to help those most in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Sarah Kile, executive director at 211 Northeast Michigan, says they have received many calls from community members concerned about the elderly and people going without food.Sarah Kile, executive director at 211 Northeast Michigan, says they have received an increased amount of calls lately from people wondering how they can help in their own communities. The agency asked that all individuals needing help and all businesses or agencies providing help register with 211 in order to help leaders identify gaps in service.


“It’s very nice to see that even if people are afraid they’re still willing to be a positive influence in the community,” she says. “They’re very concerned about the elderly and folks not having food.”


Jennifer Crawford, executive director of the Isabella County Commission on Aging, echoed that sentiment and says they have also received an influx of calls from concerned community members.


“Some people don’t have family around here. I think we can be proactive and help people out. I think caring is contagious.”

- Frank Hidalgo, a Linwood man who offered to check on elderly with out-of-town relatives

“We’ve had quite a few people reach out to us seeing if they can do more. We’ve had some high school students reach out to see if they can help,” Crawford says. “Being out in the community, it’s amazing how many how many people are asking if there’s anything they can do.”


With school out and many events cancelled, this is an opportunity for younger generations to help fill in some gaps and step up to the plate in the community while practicing safe health standards and social distancing.


“I think it’s their responsibility to look out for the folks are at most risk,” Kile says. “I would hope we do see more young people stepping up. This is the time to do what we can to protect the aging population.”


Jennifer Crawford, executive director of the Isabella County Commission on Aging, encourages kids at home to make crafts or cards that can be sent to seniors who maybe feeling isolated.While many people are reaching out to organizations inquiring about ways to support their neighbors and fellow community members, others are taking to social media to offer a helping hand. Frank Hidlago, a resident of Linwood, offered on Facebook to do wellness checks on the elderly – particularly those who may not have local family to look in on them.


“Around here, it’s like a small town family community. I’d like to be proactive instead of hearing someone froze or went without food,” he says. “Some people don’t have family around here. I think we can be proactive and help people out.”


Hidalgo says he has seen many youth, church groups, business owners, local programs, and other community members finding ways to help each other get through this difficult time together.


“I think caring is contagious,” he says.


With school canceled, students like Nick Williamsen, 21, also took to social media to offer babysitting services to parents who may be in a pinch looking for day care for their children. For Williamsen, a student at Central Michigan University working toward a bachelor’s degree in child development with a double minor in music and family studies, this was a win-win for everyone.


“I was going to be missing out on most of my internship hours and income,” he says. “I think, in general, it’s beneficial to everyone. It gives parents the security that their kids will be watched if they are still going to work right now.”


Williamsen says he’s seen a variety of other people making the same offer and thinks it’s important for everyone to see that there are people in the community who are making efforts to help others.


“They’re still trying to better the community and themselves, even during this time,” Williamsen says.


While it may seem difficult to volunteer to help others in the community while trying to practice social distancing or self-quarantine yourself, Crawford says one of the things most needed right now can be done from the comfort and safety of your own home.


 “There are so many older adults in our community who are isolated – which is the goal to minimize the spread of this virus – but kids and people home from school can make things, cards or crafts, that we can send out or take to nursing homes,” she says. “There are so many in our community who can’t have visitors. Little things like that can brighten the day of someone who is feeling gloomy.”


Whether it’s calling 211 Northeast Michigan or food pantry to see how you can help, or volunteering your time to check in on a neighbor in need, there are a variety of ways people across the Great Lakes Bay Region are pulling together during what is a difficult time for all.


Crawford says, “I think it’s during times like this that we as a community all rally around each other and people give of themselves to help their fellow community members.”