Hands reach out to seniors in need

  • Sarah Boelig prepares a bag of necessities from a small stock of dry goods in her garage on Tuesday. (Alan MacRae photo/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Laconia Daily Sun
Published: 3/26/2020 1:15:04 PM

Two weeks ago, Erika Willette of Gilford got a call from her elderly grandmother in Epsom. The 88-year-old was completely out of bottled water and couldn’t get to a store because the senior bus service she relied on was suspended because of coronavirus.

A Concord couple, owners of Shaker Towing, brought her grandmother three cases of water, and that got Willette thinking. “There are many more people out there that are just like my Grammy,” said Willette, a stay-at-home mom, whose volunteer experience to date has been rescuing dogs and helping an older woman in Bow.

Willette posted on Facebook, asking how to get the word out about a volunteer effort she wanted to start – a Lakes Region-wide food and essentials delivery service for seniors – with others who want to help the area’s most vulnerable residents: People age 60 and older, including those with debilitating health conditions.

That’s how Helping Hands Senior Support for the Lakes Region started 10 days ago, Willette said. The volunteer network now has a Facebook page, an email account, voicemail through Google Voice, guidance and support from Laconia’s fire chief and city manager, and open lines of communication with the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry, and area houses of worship that refer congregants and others in need.

“It just blew up. My phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” Willette said.

At a time when coronavirus worries are escalating with the exponential growth of cases in the U.S., including over 101 in New Hampshire as of Monday, and an older man in Hillsborough with multiple medical issues who has died from the virus, service providers and volunteers are rallying with ways to help the state’s oldest residents.

Helping Hands Senior Support for the Lakes Region has delivered food and supplies to about 20 people in just over a week, and inquiries are mounting as the message gets out. A Laconia woman called March 19, urgently seeking a thermometer. Local stores had sold out, and she needed to create a log of temperature readings before she could see her doctor. “I could hear the desperation in her voice,” Willette said. Within three minutes of posting the request online, four people responded, and one drove from Portsmouth to personally deliver the thermometer – and returned the next day with a bag of groceries.

A Laconia resident who has low blood sugar contacted Willette, worried about whether she would have food for her next meal. Her volunteer shopping and driving service through Lakes Region Community Services had been put on hold, and she was unable to get to the supermarket until the following week. “You are my earth angel,” she told Willette.

Many local seniors feel marooned by the temporary suspension of Hannaford-to-Go curbside grocery pickup service, Willette said.

“If you’ve been to the stores, you know how people are rushing around. Seniors are terrified even if they can get there, because they’re the most at-risk people,” said Willette. “Every time I hear this, I hear my Grammy. These seniors have made the Lakes Region what it is today. This is the way to pay that forward.”

The service was created by four volunteers, including Sarah Boelig, a mom and nursing student who lives in Laconia. “We really just wanted to reach out and help our neighbors. Not all of them have access to the internet or Facebook.”

The assistant to Laconia’s city manager, Nancy Brown, helped the group design a flyer and publicized their service in the city’s weekly newsletter, which reaches about 2,000 residents. “It’s very important at this time,” said Brown.

Boelig has created a pantry of donated items in her garage, including bread, eggs, pasta and sauce, canned fruit, vegetables and soup, and 110 rolls of toilet paper given by Jon’s Roast Beef and Sunflower Natural Foods, which she delivers as requests come in. One request came from a woman with cancer in hospice at home. “To have them be grateful for it, that makes it worth it for me,” Boelig said.

People who want to volunteer, donate non-perishable items or eggs, or make financial contributions can fill out a form on Facebook, email senior.atrisk@gmail.com, or leave a message at 1-802-242-1574.


(These stories are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.)

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