COVID-19 has hit Johnson County residents harder than most in Indiana. That’s where Kim Smith comes in.
The county south of Indianapolis ranks third in the state for number of confirmed cases with the peak predicted to be weeks away. Smith, executive director of Johnson County Senior Services, is busy responding to calls for help from some of the county’s most vulnerable residents. Her nonprofit runs a food pantry, meal delivery and transportation service for seniors and people with disabilities.
It’s the only agency in the county that provides free transportation for this at-risk age group, and as seniors are more isolated, the demand increased drastically in the last two weeks. With a team of volunteers, Smith was preparing a new distribution center. The center, a City of Franklin building loaned to the nonprofit, is bigger than the organization’s primary food pantry and will allow them to serve more people.
“You can do nothing, or you can do something,” she said. “This is our something.”
Duke Energy donated $1,500 to help as part of its $100,000 donation to more than 30 Indiana nonprofits to support COVID-19 relief. The company donated a total of $1.3 million to nonprofits in the seven states it serves on March 19.
While she is grateful for the financial support, her biggest challenge has been finding masks, gloves and cleaning supplies for volunteers and food for clients. Normally, Smith can call a grocery store and place an order for bulk food delivery, but everything is limited now. She thinks she has enough canned soup and vegetables but worries about availability as the situation worsens.
Smith estimates staff members are making 30 to 40 trips a day taking patients to and from their doctors’ appointments, and they must change gloves and disinfect their vehicles between each patient.
“We’re going through a lot of product,” she said, “just to keep the seniors and our team safe.”
The optimist in Smith appreciates the steady support from volunteers. It takes about eight volunteers a day to deliver boxed supplies and hot meals, and Smith has had enough support from her regular volunteers plus new volunteers from churches. She’s even had offers from several people recently laid off who are looking for a way to help.
During the pandemic, Duke Energy is waiving fees and will not disconnect power to those who have not paid their bills. The company will continue to read meters in most cases and send bills. For more on how the company is supporting its customers, employees and communities, visit dukeenergyupdates.com.
The extra help has been instrumental in making more wellness check phone calls. The calls determine what seniors need but also give Smith’s team an opportunity to warn people about the increase in scammers using COVID-19 to steal money or information. They help the seniors feel a little less lonely and scared, too.
It’s the simplest things, she said, that give them comfort.
One woman cried with gratitude after receiving a card filled with confetti from volunteers. Smith has led the organization for seven years, and it still makes her sad to think of how underappreciated and forgotten this generation is, but she said it’s an honor to be able to serve them.
“We have seen the best in people and the worst in people, but I love seeing humanity come together for the greater good,” Smith said. “That is encouraging."
Duke Energy donations in the Midwest
In addition to $100,000 in COVID-19 grants to more than 30 Indiana organizations, here are causes that benefitted in the company’s other midwestern states, Ohio and Kentucky.
Council on Aging of Southwest Ohio
A $20,000-grant will help the organization deliver meals to seniors who are confined to their homes. “Thanks to Duke Energy’s grant we are able to offer meals to help protect our most vulnerable audience, our seniors,” said Suzanne Burke, president and CEO.
Northern Kentucky Aging and Disability Resource Center
The nonprofit is the area’s go-to for eldercare, and $10,000 will support its biggest need during relief efforts: delivering meals while their usual meal-pickup service is suspended. The money will also help buy food and pharmacy items.