SOMERSET, NJ - Franklin’s residents have shown once again their ability to organize and their willingness to lend a helping hand in a time of need.

In response to the local impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak, a cohort of Franklin Township community leaders have launched Residents Helping Residents, a platform for both requesting help and offering assistance to vulnerable members of the Franklin Township community.

Residents Helping Residents is described as a nonpartisan, grassroots effort to harness the combined power of residents, local restaurants, and the Franklin Township council, members of whom were independently offering services and assistance on Facebook.

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“We figured, ‘Why have everyone work on the same thing separately?’ and decided to combine our efforts,” said Michelle Petersen, Director of Communications of the Franklin Township Republican Municipal Committee and key organizer of the Residents Helping Residents initiative.

Early last week, Mayor Phil Kramer organized a conference call with Councilman Will Galtieri alongside other community leaders to brainstorm around the needs of the community and the ability of local volunteers to address those exact needs without encountering any health risks.

In under three days, the group coordinated the launch of a Facebook page and a website with two sign-up forms: one for residents looking for help, and another for volunteers ready to step up and offer it. In the first 24 hours after the site when live, Residents Helping Residents received sign-ups from over fifty volunteers.

“It was pretty impressive that the community really came together immediately to help anybody that needed it,” Petersen said.

Within days, the site received its first request for help: a local family in need of food. The volunteers were able to seamlessly facilitate the delivery to a family that is described by organizer Rich Seamon as “profusely grateful”.

“It was a really wonderful experience to be able to help somebody,” said Seamon, who is also an Executive Board Member of the Franklin Township Soccer Club. “If there are folks out there, I hope we hear from them so we can put these volunteers in motion.”

Who can ask for help? And what kind of help?

Seamon explained that anyone in Franklin Township who is in need can fill out the form. He explained that the original idea was to send volunteers to pick up pre-ordered groceries, baby diapers, or prescriptions for vulnerable community members.

“Whether it's because you don't have transportation or because you have a sick person at home, we'll get it for you and overcome the fact that you can't get out,” Seamon said.

These services might be of particular interest to elderly residents. In addition to helping with picking up necessities, requests could even be something as small as bringing mail to the porch, or bringing a recycling can down the driveway.

Volunteers could also help with providing basic social interaction and daily ‘check-ins’.

“A senior might be sick and might need somebody just to give them a call over the phone,” Petersen said. “We would like it if a resident is worried that they are now alone without visitors, that they might be able to at least have somebody that lives near them check on them from a distance.”

Seamon explained that due to the rapidly changing circumstances, it is hard to anticipate the needs of the community members. However, the requests for help “can really encompass anything” and the team is “happy to try to facilitate anything.”

“If someone were to contact us with a request that seemed to be beyond our scope, we are in constant contact with Mayor Kramer and Councilman Galtieri,” Seamon said. “We can certainly talk to them and perhaps through that interface, bring local or county support right to that family.”

While the number of residents requesting help cannot yet be estimated, Councilman Will Galtieri reiterated that the number of people helped will depend heavily on the amount of volunteers gathered.

“The more volunteers, the more options we can look to explore,” Councilman Galtieri said.

Who can be a volunteer? And what can volunteers be expected to do?

“When you're sitting around, there's all kinds of things you can do,” Petersen said, referencing the fact that a large portion of Franklin residents are home under social isolation orders.

Petersen explained that anyone can apply to be a volunteer by filling out the quick form found on the Residents Helping Residents website. A prospective volunteer will be asked a series of questions related to their potential exposure to COVID-19 and will need to consent to a simple background check.

After passing the check, the individual will join a list of volunteers and will be contacted by Residents Helping Residents organizers when help has been requested.

Councilman Galtieri said that the initiative’s current focus is ‘trying to get food to those who are in the at-risk population and have no one to turn to for assistance in getting to the stores or get to meals.” However, volunteers should expect tasks to change based on the needs expressed by the community.

Prospective volunteers should be assured that safety of both the volunteers and residents is “at the forefront” of these planning efforts, and that all volunteer efforts will involve zero physical contact with residents requesting help, Seamon said.

As of the publishing of this article, the platform had attracted the help of almost 60 local volunteers and is actively looking for more.

“We encourage people to register to volunteer and we will start reaching out in the next day or so,” Councilman Galtieri said. “It may take some time to go through the list and coordinate opportunities and schedules but we will not be turning away any offered help, just may spread it out a little.”

Councilman Galtieri said that as this work evolves, the group plans to partner with the Franklin Food Bank to develop a system for package deliveries as well as with local restaurants who are donating meals to needy families. The group has also established a dialogue with multiple religious groups around Franklin Township to encourage inventorying of both need and resources that exist within these communities. Businesses interested in offering services can contact the organizers using the contact information listed on the site.

As of now, the site hopes to run at least through the end of the COVID-19 crisis.

More information about the Residents Helping Residents site and other resources available to residents during the COVID-19 outbreak will be shared at the Virtual Town Hall scheduled for 7pm on Thursday, March 26th.

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