As soon as California governor Gavin Newsom issued a state-wide stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), volunteers at Our Lady of Refuge Church in Long Beach formed a plan. Using the parish census that had been completed only months prior, they made a list of any senior parishioners who may be in need.
The volunteers on Team Refuge, led by parishioner Tony McKeon, made personal calls to each person, asking if they needed help getting groceries or prescriptions, rides, or just someone to talk to. They could even provide free face masks; in early March, a parishioner donated several hundred of them. Team Refuge sent them out to the parishioners most in need just a few days later.
Now, more than a month into strict social distancing, these calls continue to provide a ray of hope, for the seniors and the volunteers making the calls. “These have been very tough times for all of us,” said Father Gerard O’Brien, the parish administrator. “It’s comforting to know that while we all feel more isolated than we would like, we do still have each other.”
In biweekly emails to his parishioners, Father O’Brien encourages them to reach out to Team Refuge for help with anything they need. So far, the team has served 300 people, making phone calls, picking up medications, and delivering food. “There are always ways we can lift each other up,” Father O’Brien said.