Gene Banick, of Binghamton, went from driving older people to doctor’s appointments to dropping off groceries on their porches as the COVID-19 pandemic struck just over a year ago.
He was glad to volunteer wherever he could, he said.
“People need help,” he said. “I believe we’re here to serve.”
Banick was one of seven volunteers who helped Faith in Action Volunteer (FIAV) programs continue during the ongoing pandemic that began in March 2020. Run by the Broome County Council of Churches, the program provides several services to the elderly, including driving them to medical appointments and grocery stores, grocery shopping, visits, building ramps and cooking classes.
When the pandemic hit just over a year ago, all FIAV programs were forced to close at first, said Sue Spencer, the director of FIAV.
But it was hard shutting down the programs, said Larese Isaacson, program coordinator.
“It was really a heartbreaking moment for all of us when we couldn’t do it,” she said. “There were a lot of tears in the beginning.”
Then, a client called her, wondering how he would get groceries without help from FIAV. She researched online grocery delivery services and revamped the program. Clients call her with orders, she orders their groceries online, and volunteers deliver the food.
“We went in a completely different direction,” she said. “It was up to us to figure this out.”
Most medical appointments were done virtually while friendly, in-person visits became friendly phone calls, Isaacson said.
Some programs could not be revamped and were canceled for the whole year, including Ramp It Up, which builds ramps for elderly people who are disabled and homebound. Ramp It Up will resume this year, Spencer said.
“We’re slowly easing back,” she said.
Isaacson runs a vegetarian cooking program known as Chop and Chat, where she shares a vegetarian recipe with seniors at local senior centers. She did a virtual program for Vestal seniors last month and hopes to resume the program in person when senior centers reopen.
Some transportation to doctor’s appointments has started up again. Volunteers have also taken seniors to vaccination appointments, Isaacson said.
She credited volunteers such as Banick for keeping the programs going.
“Our volunteers are amazing,” she said. “We wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.”
Banick in turn had high praise for FIAV.
“The community is blessed to have this organization,” he said. “It’s one of the jewels of the Southern Tier.”
Spencer said she’s looking forward to having all programs back to full strength soon.
“I look at the future very optimistically,” she said. “I think we are going to come back even stronger.”
For more information
To learn more about the services provided by Faith in Action or to volunteer, go online to https://broomecouncil.net or call 607-724-9130.
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