As Cumberland County residents adjust to new restrictions on businesses or their own changing health and care needs, the Crossville-Cumberland County Emergency Management Agency is working with a network of local volunteer organizations, churches and nonprofit entities to help meet those needs.

"VOAD [Volunteer Organizations Assisting in Disaster], as always, is prepared to respond to the emergency needs created by this pandemic, no different than when we have had destruction from an ice storm or tornado," said Doug Scarlett, VOAD chairman. "The county has always stepped up in a big way to take care of each other, and we are confident this event will be no different."

Emergency food relief will be the primary effort for VOAD at this time. 

"We have children at home who are usually in school at this time, families have lost income. Families are in crisis," Mickey Eldridge, executive director of Cumberland Good Samartians, told the Chronicle.

CGS will assist VOAD with casework and outreach, with additional volunteer help from the Cumberland County Rescue Squad and vetted volunteers from several churches that are members of VOAD. 

CGS is currently closed to the public, but a hotline — 931-787-1033 — will be available Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Residents can call if someone they know is in need of food relief or crisis intervention. 

Once information on individuals and families has been processed, non-contact delivery of food can be arranged using volunteers. 

The community can assist this effort by donating monetarily to the VOAD fund established at Bank of Putnam County. Donations to the relief account can be made at all Cumberland County Bank branches of the Bank of Putnam County. 

VOAD is discouraging food donations at this time because CGS is not open at this time to receive physical donations. Monetary gifts help purchase food items daily and provide other emergency financial relief during the current crisis.

Eldridge said, "The bank account is vital in making it possible for us to respond to the needs of our friends and neighbors in crisis during this unprecedented time … It is important to note that 100% of the proceeds received in this account go directly to relief aid in Cumberland County.

"We are grateful to all who are working the front lines, and to those who cannot but are willing to offer a donation to the account no matter how big or small. It will go a long way in buying food, paying rent or utilities for a family whose world has been turned upside down."

EMA Director Rick Williams reminds everyone that emergency food relief and crisis intervention needs are only being handled by phone. VOAD depends on community support, and the limited resources will be targeted to at-risk citizens and disabled individuals with no other help or transportation. 

"The hope is that if someone has a need, they will be reaching out first to family or their church home," the release states. 

Calls will also go through a verification process, as well.

Melanie Phillips, CGS assistant director and social services coordinator, said, "Unfortunately, we have already had several requests that turned out to be non-emergency and weeded out."

Examples included individuals calling to ask for more food because stores limited the amount of meat or goods they could purchase and they had wanted to ensure four or five weeks of food was available. That does not meet the organization's definition of an emergency need, Phillips said.

"We will do our best to acknowledge those with a true emergency need and do what we can to help," she added.

Once needs have been determined, a volunteer will pick up food at CGS by appointment only. Confirmation will be made that the client will be home when delivery is made, and food will be placed on a porch, with no direct contact or entry into the home.

Other requests for crisis intervention will be dealt with by phone only. 

More information about becoming a partner VOAD organization or a vetted volunteer can be received by email to mphillips@cumberlandgoodsamaritans.org or by calling the hotline.

Emergency management and local officials have been meeting regularly via conference call since the pandemic began, helping to coordinate resources and keep partners informed of needs.

"Our EMA is a vital resource to the citizens of Cumberland County during times such as this," Cumberland County Mayor Allen Foster said. "Resource coordination is an essential need and our EMA is working hard to help the people of Cumberland County." 

EMA activates the VOAD organization, which then works under the agency's leadership.

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.