The Health Foundation’s focus on helping older adults live healthy, independent lives in their communities took on new meaning during 2020. The COVID-19 virus was especially dangerous for older people, and social distancing methods, while necessary for stemming the spread of the pandemic, put them at a greater risk for social isolation. The work of our partners in the community who are seeking to address these issues was more important than ever.
Through their Neighbor Helping Neighbor Volunteer Program, Hearts & Hands has been able to provide free escorted transportation and basic chore help for older and/ or disabled adults in rural and suburban Erie and Niagara Counties. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, they saw the need to do more.
Through a 2020 grant from the Health Foundation as part of the Health Leadership Fellows’ CALL to Action initiative, Hearts & Hands collaborated with Erie County Department of Senior Services and the University at Buffalo’s IDEA Center to begin expanding the reach and capacity of its programming to new areas in western New York.
“When the pandemic hit, we really wanted to expand into the City of Buffalo and throughout more of Erie County,” says Aaron Carlson, Hearts & Hands Executive Director. “It was essential that we
continue to provide residents with transportation for things like medical appointments and grocery deliveries and pickup. We also established a Phone-A-Pal program between our volunteers and the older adults to prevent the isolation they’ve been experiencing as a result of the pandemic.”
The funding that Hearts & Hands received from the Health Foundation allowed them to extend their reach into the community, onboarding 90 new volunteers for 200 new care receivers (in a very short span of time) who can provide detailed deliveries.
“I received a call from a woman who lives in South Dakota whose father lives in Kenmore. His wife—who handled all of his errands up until that point—had recently been moved to a care facility,” Aaron recalls. “The daughter knew she could order food deliveries and rides through the Uber app, but she said it didn’t provide the same comfort and reassurance that the volunteers at Hearts & Hands provided. We’re happy to say that her father is still a very satisfied care receiver with us.”
Looking to the future, Hearts & Hands’ goal is to ensure that mobility options for their care receivers remain open, diverse and flexible.