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story.lead_photo.caption The Callaway Senior Center will distribute masks and other essentials to seniors from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Friday. Throughout the week, members of the public can make donations at the center and at C&R Market. Photo by Helen Wilbers / Fulton Sun.

Some citizens most vulnerable to COVID-19 are having trouble finding the protective equipment and other supplies they need, according to the Callaway Senior Center.

That's why the Callaway Chamber of Commerce has organized the Senior Center NEED Drive this week.

Between 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, donors can drop off nonperishable food and/or reusable cloth masks at the senior center or in the bin inside C&R Market.

Then, on Friday, seniors in need can visit the senior center to pick up items from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

The idea for the drive came from Melinda Nichols, a Fulton resident who saw something that bothered her at Walmart.

"Lots of people had on masks but not everybody — including this older gentleman, I'd say 80-plus," she said.

Nichols helped him find horseradish, and he asked her where she'd gotten her mask.

"I said a friend of mine had made it for me," she recalled. "He said, 'I've been trying to buy one; I can't find one anywhere. I've checked here, checked at the dollar store.'"

The man didn't have a friend or family member who was making masks, and he wasn't comfortable purchasing them on the internet.

"It got me to thinking — he's right, there's nothing available for people who don't know how to work the internet to obtain these masks," Nichols said. "I called Regina (Ruppert, owner of Serenity Valley) and said that's a shame."

Ruppert, in turn, contacted the Callaway Chamber of Commerce.

"After contacting the Callaway Senior Center, the chamber staff realized this problem was only a small piece to a bigger puzzle," said Justis Kemp, the chamber's marketing and special event coordinator.

The Callaway Senior Center has been closed since the pandemic began, but staff are still delivering meals to home-bound seniors and handing out daily lunches curbside.

"Being short staffed, April Redman and her daughter have taken on the task of making the deliveries by themselves," Kemp said. "April expressed they had limited food items and needed masks for the patrons as well as other goods."

Needed items include all types of masks (including homemade), plastic grocery store sacks, milk (in half-gallon or smaller containers), canned goods and pre-portioned fruit cups.

"When we received the email from the concerned member, we knew we had to take action and follow up on what our community needs — because building community for business and family is our top priority at the end of the day," chamber Executive Director Tamara Tateosian said.

The chamber is also giving away two $25 gift cards to two donors. To enter to win, the donor must take a selfie while dropping the items off at either location and post it on Facebook, tagging the Callaway Chamber of Commerce.

"We have to take care of our community," Nichols said. "I live in Fulton. I'm from Fulton, and you see a lot of people out there and until you run into it face-to-face, you don't realize how much they are struggling."

Follow the chamber's Facebook page for updates and announcements regarding the NEED Drive. Questions can be sent by email to [email protected]

The Callaway Senior Center is at 531 Commons Drive in Fulton.

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