BERKELEY – Ed Dunn is 90 years old. But he doesn’t want to sit around the house. Instead, he joined Holiday City Free Care, a group of volunteers who do little odd jobs around the community.
“I’m retired. I’ve got nothing to do. I might as well be doing something for someone else,” the veteran said. He joined Free Care 12 years ago, and is still active.
“It’s as beneficial to me as well as for them,” he said.
Free Care comes out of the name of the development, Holiday City Carefree. They do small things for residents who are having a little trouble with independence. Flipping mattresses, getting holiday decorations down from an attic, and replacing batteries in garage door openers are just a few of the jobs they do. As a rule of thumb, they don’t do anything that would require a license, such as plumbing or electrical work. They also won’t do anything that could injure the volunteers, like shoveling snow. But, if you need your storm windows switched out, or knives sharpened, then you can call them Monday through Friday.
It’s truly volunteer. Sometimes, that can be difficult for the residents they help. They are too proud to ask for help. So, they’ll offer some money.
“I’ve had people say ‘How much do I owe you?’ Nothing. Write a card. That way the whole group can enjoy it,” volunteer Ron Delaney said.
His girlfriend, who worked in real estate, told him that the organization is even a selling point in the community. People know they’re moving into a neighborhood where people care about each other.
There are about 30 active members, said founder Vincent Altamuro. But that number is going down. One problem is the volunteer pool is aging. Pretty soon, the people who are volunteering will be the ones needing help. Additionally, the young people moving into the neighborhood aren’t joining. So, new volunteers are needed.
If you are interested in volunteering, call Altamuro at 732-244-3955.
He has estimated that the group has done 17,800 jobs in 15 years.
If you call them for something they don’t do, they’ll refer you to someone who does. This is often a place like Catholic Charities or Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey, or the county’s Senior Services department.
Volunteer John Stanton said it saves these seniors a lot of money. They might not be able to change a bulb in a refrigerator. So, who can they call? An electrician?
“Someone comes in and charges you a hundred dollars to change a light bulb,” he said.
Celebrating 15 Years
In celebrating 15 years of Free Care, Altamuro hosted a barbecue in his back yard for all the members, and invited local officials.
“This reflects a different generation,” said Sen. Christopher Connors (R-9th). “They all look after one another.”
Sadly, this kind of service-minded individual is seen less and less these days, he said.
He explained how volunteerism like this helps everybody. If someone’s need is answered by a volunteer, instead of a government employee, it frees up that employee to help someone else.
“Many times people think government is the answer. Here, in this community, people look out for themselves,” he said.
Assemblywoman DiAnne Gove (R-9th), agreed with this statement. “I think that’s what it’s all about,” she said. “People need to care about other people.”
She read a joint resolution signed by the Senate president and speaker of the House honoring the group.
Mayor Carmen Amato said the township was pleased to honor the group for 15 years of dedicated service.
“There is no greater feeling when one citizen helps another. We wish the volunteers of FreeCare another 15 great years,” he said.
If you need assistance with something, call one of the numbers listed below. One of the operators will figure out who is the best person that can help you with your problem.
Some examples of what Free Care volunteers can do: (supplies like batteries and light bulbs are supplied by the caller)
Install batteries in smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors
Replace light bulbs
Open/close air conditioner registers
Switch storm door screens and glass panels
Take down/put up curtains
Untangle Venetian blind cords
Reach items on upper shelves
Bring items up to attic/bring them down
Reset clocks, thermostat, or lawn sprinklers
Set TV menus and programs
Set telephone features
Program answering machines
Set up computers
Give computer lessons at the clubhouse
Take newspapers to the recycling depot
Fill out forms
Copy small print on labels and instructions to a larger size
Notarize documents and witness signatures
Open jars, pill containers and packages
Start cars with weak batteries
Call to check on a person’s health
Cut wood to size in the woodshop
Bring painted and decorated wooden flowers to shut-in residents on request
Altamura said the best way to get help is to call one of these numbers. If no one answers, don’t leave a message. Just call the next number on the list. If you ask for something that Free Care does not do, they will refer you to another place. Call only between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.