United Way of Hartsville helps out community during COVID-19

Joann DeLong, executive director of the United Way of Hartsville, packs a box of supplies to distribute to senior citizens during COVID-19. Supplies include masks, wipes, paper towels, hand sanitizer and other products.

HARTSVILLE — United Way of Hartsville has been at the forefront of corralling assistance to the Hartsville community during COVID-19.

Joann DeLong, executive director of the United Way of Hartsville, sat down recently to discuss the daunting task of making sure people’s needs have been met and still are being met during this pandemic.

“Because this was new for all of us,” DeLong said. “It was a little overwhelming. Normally we work with victims of storms and other weather-related natural disasters.”

DeLong said she is proud of how the community has worked together to help all. She said many organizations have stepped up to provide assistance.

Right away, DeLong said, Dick Puffer, executive director of the Byerly Foundation, organized a weekly Zoom conference call so that community leaders and organizations from around the Greater Hartsville area could to discuss concerns and needs of those in the Hartsville community, especially the most vulnerable and elderly. The weekly Zoom meetings are held every Tuesday afternoon.

Even before the Zoom meetings, DeLong said, she had begun to contact organizations that offer services, especially to the elderly and disabled, to find out just what services were available. She started making a list.

“I called Interfaith Ministries and asked ‘do you have food,’” DeLong said. “Then I asked if they could change their guidelines (during COVID-19).”

She called numerous organizations asking the same questions of how they might help and how quickly needs could be met for all, not just those who meet their income requirements and other guidelines.

“This isn’t an income-based situation,” DeLong said. “And people needed help right away.”

DeLong said lots of people were losing their source of income who were going to need help with their rent, utilities and food. She wanted to make sure help was available.

“I just want to stress how everyone, including residents calling to volunteer — even while we were to be social distancing — pulled together to make sure that needs were being met for all,” DeLong said. “There was no talk of income levels. There was, and still is, genuine concern that needs are and will continue to be met for all our residents. Thus the reason we still meet every week on our Zoom meeting.”

Meals for seniors who might not be able to get out during the coronavirus were a top priority. DeLong said many of them didn’t have the means to stockpile food and supplies.

DeLong said the Council on Aging said it would continue its Meals on Wheels program, but getting volunteers to deliver the meals was the problem. She said the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office stepped up to help.

From a conversation at one of the Zoom meeting, the Hartsville Police Department responded by helping deliver meals to Hartsville residents. Some community volunteers came forward as well.

Then a site was set up for drive-thru meal pickup every Tuesday. SPC volunteers helped with that. People 60 and older were able to drive up and get food.

DeLong said the Council on Aging provided fresh and frozen foods and needed a walk-in freezer to store thousands of meals. She said the city of Hartsville offered its freezer at Neptune Island waterpark.

In May, DeLong said, 600 seniors in Hartsville were fed 12,000 meals and 1,536 seniors in Darlington County were served 28,248 meals.

Making sure the children in the community didn’t go hungry during this time when they would normally be in school and provided meals was also a priority, DeLong said.

“I was beyond impressed with our school district,” she said. “Their program was in place in a week and half. Thirty buses were equipped with Wi-Fi and were going out to deliver meals twice a week, enough to last several days each.”

She said some school districts took nearly four weeks to get up and running and other districts still don’t have things in place.

“It has been amazing how everyone has come together,” DeLong said. “We knew we had rent and utilities covered. Food was taken care of but how to provide for seniors cleaning supplies, toilet paper and masks was another undertaking.”

DeLong said supplies were located and boxes including toilet paper, paper towels, wipes, hand soap, disinfectant spray, hand sanitizer and masks were prepared and are available to seniors for pickup or delivery.

In addition to the food and supplies made available, DeLong said, she also discovered a need for adult diapers, which have been hard to come by.

She said a flyer was sent out with each food box, meal delivered, and offered supplies for seniors. Information on places providing help was also sent out.

The flyer listed numerous organizations, their phone numbers and services they were providing. On the list: Carolina Kids — delivered food to grandparents caring for grandchildren; CareSouth Carolina — provided curbside pickup, one box of seven meals for senior over 60; Darlington County Council on Aging — meals, packed five or seven per box, for individuals 60 and over; and Hartville Police Department — provided weekly wellness check-in phone calls for seniors. Duke Energy, Free Medical Clinic of Darlington County, Hartsville Interfaith Ministries, Salvation Army, Darlington County First Steps, Darlington County Community Action Agency, YMCA of Upper Pee Dee were also listed on the flyer with a variety of assistance from help with rent and utilities, diapers, free primary care and prescriptions and relaxed and no disconnect for late utility payments. Some of these organizations are still offering services.

Day care was another concern, especially for first responders. DeLong said the YMCA rose to the challenge and said it could provide day care with a one-day notice.

DeLong said next came a call for PPE supplies for businesses and churches so they could begin to reopen following guidelines.

After finding a supplier, DeLong started offering supplies at cost through the Greater Hartsville Chamber of Commerce to its business members.

Eighty-one businesses and churches have placed orders.

“We will provide them as long as we can get the supplies,” DeLong said. “We are already having difficulty getting (disinfectant) wipes.”

She said first came the retail businesses, banks, restaurants and then the beauty salons, barbers and churches seeking PPE supplies.

“This was a monumental task,” DeLong said. “It was more than I expected, but I’m glad we did it.”

Throughout COVID-19, the United Way has continued to keep some of its other programs going such as beds for children.

“There was no way we were going to allow a child to sleep on the floor,” she said.

DeLong said once a need for a bed is identified she makes arrangements for the bed frame/mattress to be shipped directly to the home, including the bed linens.

“There is no direct contact with the families,” she said. “Being able to meet other needs has definitely been challenging (during the coronavirus).”

DeLong said this has been an emotional time for her, but things are starting to get back to normal.

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