Highland Helpline Established Pt.2

In Part One of this story about the Highland Helpline, Highland Emergency Services Coordinator Harley Gardner spoke about the service, and in Part Two, we learn more about how it was implemented.

“My name is Beth Pyles. I’m the minister at McDowell Presbyterian Church here in Highland county, and along with Nancy Witschy and Janie Hughes – Janie is actually our link or contact with the emergency group that Harley Gardner chairs and Janie is a retired nurse for the Red Cross. So the three of us were appointed as a working group for the LEPC to come up with this Highland Helpline.”

“And the genesis of it was thinking about as people are going to need to quarantine, either because it turns out they’ve got this virus or more likely, is that they’re an older population, and they’re being encouraged to voluntarily stay in as much as possible, ‘Well, how are they going to get their groceries?’ I mean, it’s really a simple question, isn’t it? ‘How are they going to get their pharmaceuticals and so on’.

“And so out of that question came this working group. And we’ve set up a phone number, and that’s being put out everywhere, and I’ll mention again – 474-2163. And it’s available from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm, seven days a week.”  

“The thought was that there’s a lot of us who are physically capable of driving to the grocery store. But if you’re over 60 or 70, or have certain health issues, you’re not supposed to be out and about at all, because you’re such an at risk person. So this is really the idea of neighbor helping neighbor isn’t it? We all do that pretty informally in Highland County, and so we’ve formalized that so that anybody in Highland who has that need can give us a call and we’ll arrange to do their pickup and delivery for them. And we’ve set up a bunch of protocols to make sure that everybody stays safe in the exchange – you know, wearing gloves, wearing masks and so on, so that we can get items to people in a timely way.”

“But dealing with the realities living, you know, as we do in Highland County, where there are small shops but no major grocery stores. And so that becomes quite a challenge for all of us in a unique kind of a rural way. And soon as I get off the phone with you, as a matter of fact, I’m headed to town to do some grocery shopping for someone. And she’s an older person, but in pretty good health, but like quite a few people I’ve heard from, her adult children are giving her the business about their desire that she stay in and stay safe. And people are starting to listen to that, because it’s one thing for me to make a decision about my health, isn’t it? But it’s quite another when my decisions impact your health and my health actually impacts my family and a whole community.”

The phone number was an extension of assistance already being offered.

“As I said, I’m the Minister of McDowell Presbyterian Church and the governing body’s called a session, and we gathered and met to talk about what we were going to do as a church. And this question came up pretty quickly with us about getting folks groceries and supplies, because we’re a much older congregation on average, and so we immediately came up with the idea of having one person in our church be designated as the volunteer point person that everybody could call. And then she would call on all of us, at any given time, to go ahead and do the grocery shopping. And we happened to mention that when there were conversations happening with the LEPC as a possibility to go county-wide.”

 “But people were already on Facebook and other social media, putting out the word to neighbors, you know, ‘if you need anything I’m willing to go.’ So I think we were all coming up with the same concerns at the same time, truthfully.”

“The question about, you know, how are we going to get through all this is a really important one, but what we forget is what we’re already doing to get through it. So as soon as anybody says in any conversation anywhere, ‘what are we going to do or how can I help,’ examples pop up immediately, and people’s ideas are just bubbling over.  The Respite Care folks who help take care of the elderly, particularly in hospice situations, have all kinds of supplies and they’re like, ‘put the word out’. The Food Bank is doing the same thing. The Humane Society called us and said ‘put our name here in case people need food for their pets and can’t get out.’ It just goes on and on – one idea sparks another sparks another. But it really is born out of everybody’s great desire to be a good neighbor. And we may have our differences here in Highland just like anywhere else. We’re not particularly unique. But we are driven principally, I believe, by a great desire to be good neighbors. And at the end of the day, that’s what we all have to count on. Because human beings are social critters – we can’t get along without each other. When we put out the word for volunteers, we’ve already got over 35 volunteers and we’ve been asking basically for two and a half, three days. So that’s really pretty remarkable. And I’ve been very pleased and humbled frankly, by that. So – it’s nice to live here.”

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott is the News Director for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan, and also is a member of the boards of the Highland-Bath Farm Bureau , Highland Chamber of Commerce and Highland Sheep and Wool Association. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

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