January 2021

During COVID-19, This Corps Delivers

Eastern Shore volunteer group worth its weight in toilet paper

As executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel District, Jeff Holland knows a thing or two about building and maintaining bridges.

That’s why, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic scare in March, Holland saw the need for a program to connect community leaders and volunteers with those most in need in Northampton and Accomack counties on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

“I wanted to use the strength of the community to aid those at the highest risk,” he says.

As a result, Holland formed the Shore Delivery Corps with the help of his wife Penney, an A&N Electric Cooperative board member, and Eastern Shore stalwarts Susan Bear Mears, Dr. Betty Bibbins, Accomack County Supervisor Ron Wolff and others.

The Corps, which went into action in early April, is a nonprofit volunteer group that provides free-of-charge grocery and pharmacy deliveries to elderly Eastern Shore residents, and those who might be at the most risk due to underlying health conditions.

GEOGRAPHIC CHALLENGE

“When we say we deliver to the Eastern Shore, we mean the whole shore,” says Bibbins, a retired OB-GYN, who helped found the Corps. “We deliver from Kiptopeke to Chincoteague and all 75 miles in between.”

Bibbins says the Corps keeps several vans gassed up along that route, so that volunteer drivers do not have to waste time driving an hour or more to return vehicles to one location when they are finished with deliveries. “They can better use that time helping others,” she says.

According to Holland, the first step toward establishing the effort was to come up with a name that best represented the organization’s goals.

“I thought to myself, ‘What would be the simplest, but most substantive name?’” he says. “We came up with Shore Delivery Corps.”

After recruiting other community leaders and starting a leadership group, the group began integrating local and chain grocery stores, pharmacies, community outreach organizations, churches and schools. It created an infrastructure of committees to run the myriad operations.

“Being part of Shore Delivery Corps has been very rewarding to me,” says Bear Mears, a teacher who found she had extra time on her hands when COVID-19 closed schools.

“I joined the volunteer recruitment committee, and thanks to social media, found it relatively easy to recruit many dedicated volunteers. Of course, contributing to our overall mission by helping our neighbors on the Shore is fulfilling, but I must say it’s the relationships that have been built with the devoted volunteers that has meant the most to me.”

HELPING HANDS

Holland says local college students home from school due to the pandemic were logical recruits as delivery volunteers.

“Statistically, they were at the lowest risk,” he says. “Then, of course, we needed funding. We were able to get $2,000 from the United Way and then $25,000 from the Eastern Shore of Virginia Community Foundation.”

With additional donations, including one from A&N Electric Cooperative, Holland says the Corps raised nearly $40,000 in no time.

“I immediately began working on procuring food and paper products,” Wolff says. “We soon realized that in addition to a delivery service for those at risk of shopping in person, we also needed to be able to provide some basic necessities free of charge for those who couldn’t afford them. I was a former restaurant owner and had those contacts, so I helped out with that.” In one such incident, Wolff contacted the Holt Paper Co., which offered a discount on as much toilet paper and paper towels as the Corps needed. An anonymous donor purchased a tractor-trailer full, and through the Corps, the products were all distributed to those in need. “You have to remember how bad it was at that time,” Holland recalls. “Paper products were just unavailable. People waited in lines at dawn at local supermarkets in hopes of getting toilet paper and paper towels that had perhaps just come in on a truck. “One older woman told us that she had gotten some toilet paper, put it in her cart, turned around to get something else and her cart and her purse were gone. She went to the manager and found out her purse had been returned with her wallet intact, but her toilet paper was never recovered.” According to the Shore Delivery Corps’ website, from April through November 2020, more than 120 volunteers fielded more than 1,800 service calls from residents in need. They had completed more than 2,200 deliveries of food, groceries and medicines, including 12,623 rolls of toilet paper and 5,340 rolls of paper towels donated to low-income families.