Among United Way of Porter County’s numerous teams of remarkable volunteers are the members of their Retired & Senior Volunteer Program, RSVP for short. The program offers people age 55 or older the opportunity to engage with a wide variety of challenges and topics throughout their communities.
With the COVID-19 pandemic posing an extra risk to senior populations, you might expect RSVP members to back away from their efforts in order to stay home. Instead, membership is stronger than it has ever been.
“They’ve stepped up. They say, ‘those people out there need us,’ and that’s what gets me emotional,” said Evelyn Harris, Regional Director of the United Way Retired & Senior Volunteer Program. “They put their masks on, they put their gloves on, and they keep going.”
Most of RSVP’s efforts are focused on projects that help keep seniors safe at home. This was the case even before the pandemic, but the mission became even more critical now. One of the biggest projects is their support for home meal delivery, through partners such as Meals on Wheels or local food banks.
“For some of the seniors supported by Meals on Wheels, you have to go in and put food on their table because they can’t even get up,” Harris said. “How can you stop delivering to people who can’t get up, folks who are homebound? Our volunteers have developed relationships with the people they serve, so they say they can’t stop. I love them for that, and all I tell them is ‘God bless you.’”
Other seniors who have their meals delivered are mobile enough to pick up their food at the front door, but for social distancing reasons, can’t have the accompanying wellness check. For those cases, RSVP started doing over-the-phone wellness calls, where volunteers chat with meal recipients about anything and everything.
Called Phone Pen Pals, it is an expansion of sorts to their companionship volunteer program, where RSVP volunteers offer a listening ear to seniors who might not have any friends or family visiting them regularly. In recent times, RSVP volunteers have even taken to calling each other for simple check-ins. In normal times, they might also do a home visit to help clean up, shop, or simply to join them on a walk in the park.
“I can tell you right now, companionship and food support are very important in this pandemic,” Harris said. “People have come out of the woodwork saying they want to help. We’ve gained 140 volunteers for Meals on Wheels alone.”
Other RSVP members are using their skills to find unique ways to help people. Some self-made tailors are producing masks, while the talented cooks are dropping off home cooking for the hungry.
“One lady told me that she’s putting her mask on, gloves on, and going into Wal-Mart every day to pick up things her friend needs,” Harris said. “They’re cautious, but eager to find ways to help.”
More than once, the RSVP volunteers’ dedication has moved Harris to tears.
“I have the best job in the world,” she said. “Sometimes these volunteers are coming from a place of pain, maybe a childhood where there was a lack of support. So they say they have to do this, that it’s their duty. Sometimes I’m fighting back tears in my car, because there are people out here doing this because they want to, not because they need to.”
To learn more about United Way of Porter County and the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program, visit www.unitedwaypc.org.