For six months, every day has been a series of small victories for Will Peoples. It’s been that long since the 33-year-old’s leukemia went into remission, but the treatment took a toll on his immune system, forcing him to confine himself in the safety of his Frankford home.
Then COVID-19 hit.
There is no such thing as good timing for a global pandemic, but it could not have come at a worse moment for Peoples, still needing to recover, and his wife and their two children.
What was timed well, however, was the arrival of Legacy of Hope, a nonprofit that delivers groceries biweekly to cancer patients — Peoples started receiving his orders two weeks ago, delivered by Philadelphia police officers working with the nonprofit.
“It helped improve my mood,” Peoples said. “And I was honored that these officers took the time to come help. One was a cancer survivor, too, and them being down-to-earth made me feel better about all that’s going on.”
The organization said it would continue to deliver groceries during the quarantine, but now with officers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and using curbside drop-offs.
In most households, calls for quarantining and social distancing can be trying. But for those already homebound, such as the elderly or immunocompromised, a lack of contact can pose a significant health risk. Across the Philadelphia region, social-service organizations, government offices, and even some police departments are changing how they serve people as the coronavirus continues its sweep.
For many agencies, stay-at-home restrictions forced only slight changes in how they provide services. In other cases, it inspired new ones, like the “virtual well-being checks” that Chief Karl Knott instituted in the Central Bucks Regional Police Department.
This week, three officers from the department, with headquarters in Doylestown, began making daily phone calls to everybody in the department’s jurisdiction who is 65 or older. It’s an opportunity for them to ask officers questions about the rapidly changing orders issued out of Harrisburg, or receive some reassurance about the world beyond the home they’ve been told to hunker down in.
“We’re fortunate to have a low crime rate, but we’re not resting on our laurels, and we’re always thinking of ways to reach out to the community,” Knott said. “I thought this would be a good first step to help folks get through this pandemic that no one has experienced before in their lives.”
Staffers are making similar calls in Chester County, according to Sandra Murphy, the head of the county’s Department of Aging Services. A frequent request is for rides on Rover, the department’s shuttle service that takes seniors to grocery stores.
Social distancing requires more trips with fewer riders, all spaced far enough apart on the shuttle buses. Luckily, according to Murphy, the department is being met with willing school bus drivers looking to pitch in as districts remain closed.
“We’re still answering our phones, and we will try to hook people up with the resources they need,” Murphy said. “We’ll talk to people who are feeling anxious or depressed. We’ll stay on the phone as long as you need us to, and if you need someone to call you every single day, we’ll make sure that happens."
With the constant flow of updates coming out of Harrisburg and Washington, local agencies are focused on informing seniors. Dana Goldberg, the legal director for the Philadelphia-based SeniorLAW Center, said its staff has been able to maintain the center’s hotlines remotely, answering questions about food pantries, evictions and other pressing concerns.
For those who are venturing to the homes of the sick and elderly, like the Philadelphia officers working with Legacy of Hope, the benefit of those conversations is mutual, according to Inspector Altovise Love-Craighead.
“Before this pandemic, the value was absolutely clear,” she said. “And given that the need has increased exponentially, so has the sense of reward for doing what you do.”
Love-Craighead, who oversees the department’s community relations division, said officers from each of Philadelphia’s six police divisions have been eager to work with Legacy of Hope. And their familiarity with the neighborhoods has allowed them to refer those in need to the nonprofit.
“The last thing we want is for people to be without,” she said. “At times like these, everyone wants to help, and they were just grateful for the opportunity.”