I hadn’t left my house for 14 days until this morning.

Being in the healthcare industry I have a different perspective about contagion and universal precautions. I knew this pandemic was going to hit aggressively and spread wildly when it arrived. I was probably more prepared than most, so my kid and I wouldn’t have to leave the house. 

However, last night my 70-year-old dad asked if I’d help him get groceries today. He, like many other seniors, either didn’t know what to expect or didn’t think our regular state of normalcy would decline so quickly after the virus spread.

My father has had a stroke, a heart attack and uses a walker everywhere. He struggles at the store on a regular day — to navigate the local grocery chains during this strange reality we are all mucking through would be impossible for him to attempt alone.

With underlying hesitancy inside of me, I agreed to go with him. I prepped myself to be as safe as I could be for the task. 

Thankfully the local grocers have established “Senior Hours” to accommodate the elderly and immune-compromised. We arrived at Safeway at 7 a.m., when senior hours start. Many seniors came in their wheelchairs, with canes in hand or clinging to walkers with their oxygen tanks in tow.

The managers in our local Safeway met us with kind smiles as they opened the doors with a “so happy to see all of you this morning,” to overwhelmed, confused faces. Everyone fanned out slowly, trying to find something to eat, cleansers and paper products. There was almost nothing to be had for this population of our people.

I was helping my dad go up and down aisles when I had this out-of-body experience (beside myself) — I was watching these elderly people struggle to participate in the tasks before them. I helped my dad and anyone else I could put items into carts, reach higher shelves and point people in the direction of things they were looking for.

All of them trying to find necessities, find help or a little hope. It was a desperate, bewildering experience that filled me with such uncertainty, I came home and wept. 

MORE: See all of our Write On, Colorado entries here.

So now I’m using this essay as a “call to arms” of sorts. We must as a community arm ourselves with empathy. I’ve heard it said that civilizations are marked by how we treat the children and the old. The care we have for these people in our world is a direct reflection of ourselves. I implore you to consider (if you are well and willing to participate in universal precautions, of course) to communicate with local food banks, grocery delivery services and senior centers to network for seniors and the immune-compromised in your communities.

Interactions can remain within the guidelines of social distancing orders (your phones and computers are powerful tools during this time –NETWORK WITHOUT face to face interactions.) Canned foods and non perishable items can be easily left on seniors’ doorsteps with no interpersonal contact.

Reaching out by phone, email or text to the elderly or immune-compromised when you’re already ordering your own groceries for pickup to coordinate pickup times for them as well, is an effective way to help in the transportation of supplies for these individuals.

If you are one of those super savvy shoppers or couponers that have stockpiles of necessities, consider a care package shared to someone less able or completely unable to obtain items to sustain their wellness in this time of isolation. Remember, you can lend a helping hand while still maintaining six feet of separation. 

Thanks for reading. 

Gina Manchego is a mom, activist, social worker and caregiver in Erie.