‘It’s not just about me’: Oklahoma Grocery Network connects hundreds of immunocompromised and volunteers

CLAREMORE, Okla. — With COVID-19 cases on the rise in the United States, elected officials and news outlets have spent a lot of time talking about social distancing.

Less reported are the ways in which the pandemic is bringing people together.

A group of Oklahomans across a handful of northeastern counties came together, virtually, last week to create the Oklahoma Grocery Network.

The Facebook group is designed to connect senior citizens and people with compromised immune systems to volunteers in their area who are willing to run errands and deliver groceries to their homes.

The group was started by Rogers County Resident Angie Buchanan, after seeing a friend in Alaska offer to pick up groceries for his older, immunocompromised neighbors.

As a full-time case manager and a student in her last semester of graduate school, Buchanan didn’t have a lot of time to volunteer, “but if we had a network, it wouldn’t fall on any one or two people. It could be all of us.”

The Oklahoma Grocery Network was approaching 1,000 members at the time of publication.

A number of people in the group are senior citizens or immunocompromised.

Sherry Marie Keller said, “I am over 65 and have an immune disorder called hypogammaglobulinemia. My body is unable to fight infection. I look healthy, but it is an illusion. This group will be a tremendous help to me by allowing me to avoid exposure to this pandemic illness. We are blessed to have so many caring people willing to step up for our safety.”

Elizabeth Crose said, “My child has extreme respiratory risks. This volunteer service will be incredibly helpful to us once our resources run low. This is life changing for many of us.”

“I am 28 and have multiple rare and chronic diseases. I am three hours from family, and daily tasks are overwhelming. Now that things are heightened, I am having to go out and do more. It’s causing a ton of pain and I’m short on energy to the point I get sick,” Amber Turner said. “This page found someone to help within an hour or two. It’s so hard to ask for help, but I was desperate. It only took about 10 minutes to help me. I am so grateful.”

Sue McGuire said, “My husband and I are 72 and 78 and high risk. We also have a problem getting around. Although I have enough at this time, it is just wonderful to know if I need help, it is out there.”

Many more people in the Facebook group are willing volunteers, offering their services should a need arise in their community.

Buchanan said, “I’m surprised by everything that is happening in the world right now, but I’m not really surprised that people want to come together and help. That tends to come out of us whenever things get rough.”

“I work in home health, and I see this population that has risk every day, and I know how to take precautions. If I can do anything to help lessen their risk, I’ll do it,” Kim Kilgore Quigley said.

Chrystal Bickford Antao said, “My family isn’t high risk, luckily. As long as we’re not showing signs of sickness, we’re glad to help reduce the risk to our elders and immunocompromised neighbors.”

Vicky Oriea is not only a volunteer, but a mother and grandmother to a daughter with immune disorders and a grandbaby that was born premature. While she is currently well enough to provide for herself and her daughter, Oriea invoked the golden rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

“We are called to be Jesus Christ’s hands, extended. So long as I’m able, I will help others who are in need,” Ginger Applegate Cordero said. “If I were in need, I would hope someone else would feel the same towards me.”

Alexa Brittany said, “The only way we are all going to get past this is if we band together for the greater good of humanity. The elderly, disabled, and less fortunate are not able to be as proactive or preventive, so we need to be there to help. It just comes down to protecting the human race and doing the right thing. This is truly a test to see people’s real colors.”

At this time the group can only be accessed through Facebook, though group admins are urging individual volunteers to post their services in public places to help senior citizens without internet access in their communities.

“As long as I’m not showing signs of any illness, I’ll do whatever I can to help my community. We are not alone. It’s up to all of us to come together, despite our current leadership, and put together a plan to keep each other safe, healthy and well cared for in the safest way possible,” said Regina Klinger.

And perhaps the simplest reason of all, offered by Arlene Laxamana, “It’s not just about me.”

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