By Wendy Nugent, Newton Now
The Newton Fire/EMS Department’s job is saving lives and property. They know that. That’s what they’re trained to do. They don’t question it when the alarm rings—they just jump in their vehicles, red lights blaring to a scene of a fire, accident or medical call in someone’s home.
They also know an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In that vein, 14 local firefighters are donating off-duty time to deliver needed items to people who can’t or shouldn’t get out, around others who might carry COVID-19, an illness that started out in Washington State with one case just a few weeks ago that’s spread to more than 14,000 cases testing positive in the United States and 10,000 deaths reported globally.
The idea came from a spark in Newton Fire/EMS Joe Martin’s mind.
“Several days to a week ago, I was watching the news at home and saw a Valley Center church was doing this,” he said, adding that was the first time he had ever heard of anyone doing that.
He thought about the people’s homes they go into, where a senior citizen might immunocompromised and their families might be far away.
“Because Newton/North Newton are significant retirement facilities,” Martin said about why they have a large number of such folks, adding he then thought that as firefighters, they know how to shop.
“We know our way around a grocery store because we go shopping every day,” he said. “We know all the streets and addresses because of our job. We’re just trying to help out.”
He said he started a GoFundMe page, where people can donate to the cause at www.gofundme.com/f/newton-firefighters-shopping-for-seniors. The project is called Newton Firefighters Shopping for Seniors. As a matter of fact, they’ve gone beyond their goal of $1,000 at $1,895 as of 4:17 p.m. on Friday, March 20.
Martin said off-duty firefighters are doing this, and they’re not using city funds for the project. He said when he wanted to start the program, he sent out a text page, and 14 firefighters indicated they’d like to help out.
“We needed operating capital, so that’s what we’re using the GoFundMe funds for,” he said. “People write a check or cash for their stuff. We pick it up.”
He said the project still is in its infant stage. If someone needs firefighters to shop for him or her, they can email email@example.com or call 316-284-6199 with contact information and a shopping list. When the food is delivered, people can then pay firefighters with a check or cahs.
“We encourage you to stay at home and take advantage of this service,” according to the GoFundMe page. “Together, we can slow the virus spread and keep our health-care system from becoming overwhelmed—a group of off-duty Newton firefighters who want to give back to our wonderful, supportive community by shopping for our most vulnerable seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic. We understand that many of our seniors have underlying health problems and are immunocompromised.”
Although a number of people have donated, not a lot of people have used the program yet.
“We haven’t had a ton of people use it yet, just a handful,” Martin said. “We wish we were doing more. It has not taken off super fast.”
They also aren’t going to expressly define how old someone has to be to be a senior citizen.
“I’m not going to ask you your age,” he said. “We’re not going to ask for an ID and prove they’re seniors.”
In addition to getting groceries, the firefighters will shop for anything else, within reason.
“The idea is to keep them home, so they don’t have to get out and be exposed,” Martin said.
In addition to receiving money, a local company wants to give them food.
“As a result of this campaign going public, Ardent Mills contacted me and wants to donate at pallet of flour,” Martin said.
He’s contacted Mennonite groups who will turn flour into bread, and another group will distribute the bread to people in need. The rest of the flour, they’ll donate to food banks.
If the group has any leftover money from the GoFundMe drive, they’ll donate the money to local charities, Martin said. However, those taking advantage of the program can get their first $25 of food or whatever they need for free.
“We want immunocompromised folks to stay at home and not get exposed,” Martin said about why they’re doing this. “We’d encourage them to stay home. The outbreak has a much higher mortality rate in immunocompromised adults.”
He said they’re setting the items outside of people’s homes.
“We have to be out in the community anyway,” he said.
Members of the local Masonic Lodge are doing their part to help out, as well.
“On a daily basis around the world, Freemasons are striving to help,” project organizer Matthew Hockett said. “Right now, locally, we at Newton Lodge No. 142 are delivering goods to individuals that they may have purchased either online or over the phone from local businesses. Once they purchase their items, all they need to do is let the store know we are picking it up and delivering it to them, give us a call, and we will bring it to them.”
They want to help the elderly, expecting or new mothers, sick people and people who just are nervous about getting out and are practicing social distancing. Those wishing for the Masons to pick up their groceries, medications and other necessities and deliver them for free can call or text 316-281-5053, 316-283-1199 or 620-217-6198.
“Our hope is that we can give these individuals some peace of mind by not having to worry about how they are going to get the necessities they may need,” he said.
They’re putting themselves in harm’s way for a few reasons.
“As Freemasons, we take an obligation,” he said. ”A part of our obligation is that of service. We try to be of service to our community all the time, but especially more so during trying times like these. Community is one of the things we believe in and value the most, so we want to make sure that we as an organization are stepping up and meeting the needs of our community, even in these precarious times.”
Hockett said the local lodge has been a part of the Newton community for more than 145 years and that they want to be here at least 145 more years.
“This is simply how we give back to a community that has given us so much,” he said.
Right now, they’re just focusing their efforts on free deliveries.
“Currently we are not collecting items or money, but as we have all seen over the past week, the COVID-19 situation has been unfolding on an almost hourly basis,” Hockett said Friday afternoon. “As the picture becomes clearer over the next few weeks of exactly what the needs of the community will be, we may begin starting additional drives or things of that nature to help meet the needs of our community.”
Like the fire department, the Masons haven’t had a lot of people take them up on their offer yet.
“Honestly, as of right now, it hasn’t been the actual delivering of goods that has been needed,” Hockett said. “Just more of the peace of mind that should that need arise, someone has them covered. As of today, we have been able to take a box of food to a family who was unable to get out, and they were extremely grateful to have this service available to them.”
The people they deliver to are paying for the food; the Masons just provide the pickup and delivery.
“We are not paying for any of the items or anything now; we are just delivering items to individuals free of charge,” Hockett said. “We are asking that individuals make their purchases online or over the phone with the local businesses and let them know that we are picking it up for them. As this unfolds, we may start doing more.”