FULTON — “Are we happy to see you!” That’s the phrase that greets Wayne Kirby and John Crandall at every stop they make.
Kirby and Crandall. While they’re not a comedy team, they do bring joy to - and put smiles on — the faces of Oswego County Opportunities employees and consumers with each delivery they make. The two are drivers for OCO’s expanded courier service.
“When the COVID-19 outbreak hit OCO’s emergency response team was activated. We wanted to assure our more than two dozen program locations were better connected and that there was a routine established by which sites could receive additional deliveries,” said OCO Senior Director of Operations Betsy Copps. “This became even more important once state, county and local municipalities began issuing travel restrictions and social distancing requirements. Some of our program oversight agencies, such as the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) and the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) determined that group home residents were not to leave the property unless for an emergency or essential medical appointment. The courier service became more of a lifeline because site staff couldn’t come to us.”
In recent years each OCO site would receive mail, checks, and basic office supplies on courier runs that were provided on Wednesdays. As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak there was a need to increase the frequency of deliveries and types of supplies delivered. OCO needed to deliver and distribute additional supplies including personal protective equipment such as masks, face shields, and disposable gloves, as well as cleaning and disinfecting products like hand sanitizer and surface cleaning products.
To meet that challenge, OCO’s courier service was expanded from one day a week to three days a week. It was a task that came together quickly. “The OCO Health Education program and the OCO Day Hab program each loaned one of their vans; we recruited Wayne and John; and our new courier service was up and running in less than a week!” Copps said.
Both Kirby and Crandall are substitute drivers for OCO Transportation Services. As luck would have it both were readily available and relished the opportunity to become couriers.
“When I was asked if I’d be interested in being a courier I thought it would be great,” said Crandall. “When I retired I still wanted to be active. I like being around others and helping people, even if it is from six feet away!”
Kirby, who is retired from Prudential Financial, joined OCO after attending one of the agency’s open house events. “I thought it would be nice thing to do. Throughout my career I always dealt with the public and enjoyed doing so. I enjoyed driving bus but being a courier is even more rewarding. It’s nice to see the immediate satisfaction on peoples’ faces,” said Kirby.
The two deliver to OCO sites on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Their day starts just before 9 a.m. as they pick up mail and their boxes of supplies at OCO’s main office in Fulton. “The staff at OCO makes it easy for us,” said Crandall. “When we arrive the boxes are filled and ready to go.”
“It’s a team effort,” said Copps. “A conference room just inside the main office entrance is being used as a staging area for the deliveries. Several staff members participate in preparing packets of mail to be delivered. Corporate Operations and Facilities staff package orders for the COVID-19 related supplies. Sometimes there are special items such as a laptop that is sent from a site to the main office for servicing by IT staff. Recently our couriers delivered quantities of cotton fabric donated by a local business, to sites where employees will take it home and make more reusable face masks for staff and consumers to wear.”
When Kirby and Crandall arrive each box is tagged for its destination. The two load up their vans and head out on their assigned routes: Kirby to Phoenix, Fulton, Minetto and Hannibal and Crandall to Mexico, Pulaski and Oswego.
While the two are a welcome sight at each of their stops no one eagerly anticipates their arrival more than those at OCO’s group homes. “Having to shelter-in-place makes the group home residents feel isolated,” said Crandall. “They tell me I’m a breath of fresh air! They enjoy having someone to say hi to and chat with a bit while maintaining social distancing. We do more than just drop off the supplies. It may just be a few encouraging words and a smile, but it means a lot and gives them something to look forward to.”
Since the expanded courier service got under way in March it has received rave reviews and plenty of positive feedback.
“I really feel like we hit a home run with this service!” said Copps. “John and Wayne are rays of sunshine, bringing warm smiles and friendly service as they make their way along the courier routes. They’re really enjoying their role in helping keep OCO running smoothly during this pandemic.”
In addition to his courier route Kirby answered the call to help OCO Nutrition Services with meal delivery. Since the stay at home and social distancing mandates went into effect OCO Nutrition Services has seen a huge increase in the number of seniors receiving home delivered meals. To help meet the demand Kirby delivers meals from the OCO kitchen in Mexico to the Fulton Mill Apartments in Fulton Monday through Friday.
“I’m enjoying my role as a courier very much,” said Kirby. “It’s satisfying to know that what we are doing is highly valued by so many people.”
Kirby didn’t realize just how much his role as courier was valued until he arrived at OCO’s residence in Minetto and was greeted by a “Thank You Wayne” sign. “Wayne stops three days a week,” said OCO Site Supervisor Andrea Griffis. “He brings us our mail, our supplies, and most importantly, the personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies we need to keep staff and residents healthy.”
To maintain social distancing, staff and residents at the site are not able to personally greet Kirby. To show how much they appreciate what he does and look forward to his arrival they placed the “Thank You Wayne” sign in the front window.
“When I approached the Minetto site and saw the sign in the window saying ‘Thank you Wayne’ it really drove home the fact of how much we are appreciated. We are truly helping people and I am fortunate to be able to do so,” said Kirby.
“I couldn’t be happier,” added Crandall. “People are referring to us as a lifeline. It’s rewarding to know that people are so grateful for what we are doing. Everyone at OCO has been great. I wanted to do something that would make a difference and help people and this is perfect. It’s really a dream come true!”
OCO provides 50-plus services that people can access safely and securely. Check the website for updates on program schedules and community resources to help people get through this difficult time: https://www.oco.org/covid-19-updates Call the hotline 1-877-342-7618 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday through Friday for assistance with basic needs. -OCOHere4You.