CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — Few could have suspected toilet paper shortages would become a point of conversation for strangers talking on the phone. But it’s just one of the many topics Brandon McCullough has discussed while calling up seniors in his community to make sure they have everything they need.
“It’s pretty much just making sure that they have food and then I just kind of try to transition into just a friendly conversation,” McCullough said. He is one of about 230 City of Gresham employees working from home at least some of the time during the coronavirus response.
Many employees whose “normal work functions have been disrupted due to COVID-19 have been redeployed to assist with our emergency operations,” Elizabeth Coffey, the city’s communications manager, wrote in an email to KOIN 6 News.
That includes Operation Gresham Connected, which launched in late March.
A team of 40 city employees called more than 3,000 seniors to check in and see if they needed help getting medication, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, or anything else. In some cases, they’ve even made the deliveries themselves.
McCullough, who works for the public works department, said he called at least 150 people during the first wave of the project.
Since then, he’s been busy with “Hope at Home,” a partnership with Meals on Wheels People. City employees wrote about 400 cards that will go out in this month’s food deliveries.
“Everybody can put their little touch on it,” McCullough said. He attached a photograph looking down on the city to give people “a beautiful view of Gresham during this time that we’re staying home and saving lives.” The cards also include the Operation Gresham Connected phone number so people can reach out if they need anything.
Senior loneliness is a huge problem in normal times, but the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many peoples’ feelings of isolation. That’s why mental health experts stress the importance of keeping in contact with loved ones, especially older relatives and friends.
In addition to the letter-writing campaign, McCullough has continued making phone calls through Meals on Wheels too, squeezing a few in throughout the day. The reception has been so rewarding.
“It’s almost like having a conversation with your grandparents, where they just they want to tell you about their life and what they’re doing,” he said. “It’s not in any way an inconvenience for me, but for them it’s just a way for them to maybe talk to somebody when they don’t have anything going on.”
While he is still working full time, McCullough said he’s looking forward to the next opportunity to help out.
“I’m sure the Gresham Connected team has got something else coming down the pipeline, and I’m for sure gonna jump on it if they need help,” he said.
Community organizations, churches or neighborhood groups with directories of vulnerable residents can reach out to Operation Gresham Connected at GreshamConnected@GreshamOregon.gov or 503-618-2111.