Violet Metz became concerned in March as grocery store lines grew and local governments issued shelter-in-place orders.
“At my age, security is such a huge concern,” said Metz, 81, a McAllen resident. “If I really need something, will I be able to get it?”
It was an extraordinary period of time in March going into April as the COVID-19 pandemic set in. The general panic being felt in the community-at-large was even more acute with elderly residents. How would they get groceries and medications from pharmacies?
The Birth of a Movement
Johnny Llanes, a family nurse practitioner in McAllen, was well aware of these concerns in his work for United Health Services and Ashley Pediatrics of Mission. On March 13, he decided spur of the moment to start a volunteer organization to assist the elderly and disabled during the COVID-19 crisis.
Llanes posted on Facebook with a simple question. Is there anyone who wants to help and volunteer? The response was immediate. A small group of volunteers grew to 40 members. Donations to buy groceries for the elderly began to come in. Chick-Fil-A and other restaurants offered hot meals for delivery to seniors.
Project COVID Care was born – and at its peak during the days of quarantines – it reached 150 households in Hidalgo and Cameron counties. The mission is simple and vitally important. The all-volunteer group aims to get groceries, meals and essential medications to the homes of the elderly and disabled. The need to do so was never more important than the two-month period when delivery services of this sort were limited to non-existent.
“There was no safety net (for the elderly) in those days unless they had family members or good friends to help them,” said Llanes, a Raymondville native. “There were no adult day care centers open. Providers (medical attendants) weren’t going to homes. Everything just about was closed.”
Fortunately for Metz and other seniors in need, Llanes and Project COVID Care were there. Deliveries of groceries came twice a week and hot meals daily.
“Johnny and his group are a bunch of angels,” said Metz, who said she’s at high risk for infections due to respiratory conditions. “I knew I’d never go hungry. If I really needed something, I knew Johnny would find someone to get it for me.”
Looking Back, Looking Forward
Those spring 2020 days when calls were pouring in were intense and hectic for Llanes. He was balancing the needs of his new organization while tending to his regular job duties.
It was non-stop, he said of the inquiries, including offers of help from RGV Catholic Charities and the Food Bank of Mission. Gold’s Gym in Pharr offered to be a storage and staging area. The UTRGV nursing school now has its students doing community rotations with Project COVID Care.
“It just tells you how many people we have in the Valley who are willing to help,” Llanes said.
With life somewhat getting back to normal, Llanes is looking to establish his organization as Project Care Foundation, a non-profit entity. It will focus on weekly grocery deliveries and assisting with errands for the elderly and disabled. Project Care Foundation will also offer some insights on basic health care needs.
Metz is grateful to Llanes and his organization no matter what form it takes. Their presence in her life in recent months has been a blessing, she said.
“To have that security, it makes going through isolation so much easier,” Metz said.