040420-du-helping hands

Phyllis Fitzgerald holds up a sign offering help to those in need, which she posted in the Helping Hands in Junction City (KS) Facebook group. The group was started by Natasha Santiago of Junction City in hopes of helping people in need find the assistance they need in a time of great uncertainty. Anyone in need is free to request help through the group and would-be helpers may make posts volunteering their services.

After COVID-19 went from being an ephemeral threat to an eminent one and restrictions began coming out of the Geary County Health Department, Natasha Santiago thought of others before herself.

The Junction City resident decided, after watching the Junction City Bear Hunt gain traction on social media, to form a group of her own, one dedicated to helping out older and immunocompromised residents.

The group, called Helping Hands in Junction City (KS), aims to allow those in need to connect with would-be volunteers who can run errands and help out with other little things, now that attending to the details of everyday life has become dangerous.

“Since the worst is yet to come, I think there will be a time when people are going to be scared to go outside,” Santiago said. “Or there are old people who can’t go outside who don’t have a family. Those are the people we need to look out for. I’m young, I’m healthy or at least I think I am.”

People currently are allowed to leave their homes for essential trips. But the elderly and those with health problems face a risk every time they go to the store in this environment — when there is a pandemic virus spreading that could kill them, a disease for which there is currently no cure.

Santiago acknowledges she is also at risk from COVID-19. She’s a smoker, she said, and COVID-19 does not only infect older or sick people, contrary to popular belief. There are headlines in the news where people with no prior health issues and younger people have died of the virus.

But it’s a risk she’s willing to take to assist vulnerable community members who may have no one else to help them.

“We need positivity and we need kindness,” Santiago said. “Kindness is free. It costs you nothing.”

Kindness, she said, is about as contagious as COVID-19.

“It’s a good thing,” Santiago said. “You can inspire people.”

She hopes her project can ease the stress of these trying times for the community’s most vulnerable members.

“It’s a very lonely thing,” Santiago said of COVID-19 and its required social isolation.

She had wanted to start volunteering with the elderly in the community for a while, but hadn’t taken the plunge. The pandemic has catapulted her into it.

Phyllis Fitzgerald is one of the community members who has chosen to join Santiago’s efforts.

“I chose to volunteer because that’s one of the things that I personally enjoy doing, which is volunteering to help others or to help others in my community,” she said. “That’s the nature of who I am.”

Fitzgerald said no one had taken her up on her offer yet, but she hopes someone who doesn’t have the means to do so otherwise will ask her to run essential errands for her. She’s also willing to talk on the phone with people who are home alone and need company or send positive messages to people.

“Those are just a couple things that I thought of that would be of help,” Fitzgerald said.

She believes as the situation evolves over the next month that more people seek help from volunteers.

“I think it’s admirable that (Santiago) set the group up … to me, this is what our community is about — people helping each other,” she said. “Everyone has such a kind heart and we only want the best for everybody. Small acts of kindness will go a long way.”

Kim Bradney also hopes to volunteer through the group, posting alongside Fitzgerald shortly after the group was formed.

“I guess I just felt the need to offer up my help,” she said. “I have a little free time and I’m healthy, so certainly I thought that if there was anybody who needed help, that I could do that for them.”

She’s willing to help where she can, Bradney said, with tasks such as dog walking, grocery shopping and light yard work for those who can’t do those things for themselves.

As with other volunteers, Bradney is concerned about the risks she might contract or spread COVID-19.

“I’m certainly taking precautions,” she said. “I’m staying at home as much as I can. But I do get out. I go to the grocery store when I need to. It has to be done.”

And if she does it for herself, she reasons, she can do it for those who can’t.

“It’s a scary time,” she said. “Hopefully we can all just band together and help those people who need the help and we’ll get through this.”

So far, the group has not had many people express interest in volunteers’ services, but they hope this changes in the near future.

Anyone who is in need or who knows someone in need or who wants to volunteer is welcome to post.

Santiago, Fitzgerald, and Bradney, along with other volunteers, can be reached through their personal Facebook pages. Anyone is welcome to send them a message.

Fitzgerald said she can be reached by phone at 785-307-1472 and Bradney can be reached 785-375-8135.

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