Some people go about their lives just quietly helping other people and serving their community, not looking for accolades and recognition. However, others do notice and in this case, after many years of service, Virpi and Jim Loomis were honored by the New York State and Bermuda Lions Foundation as the chief representatives and volunteers of SIRS, the Senior Information and Referral Service.
On July 22 the couple was invited to the Spencer-Candor Lions meeting where the Lions presented them with the Robert J. Uplinger Distingushed Service Award for service to the seniors of Spencer and surrounding communities. Technically, the award is to SIRS, but Virpi Loomis has been the patient, steadfast coordinator of the program since its beginning and Jim has been one of the most dependable, long-serving volunteers. The Loomises do not see this award as something for just them but a recognition of the many volunteers over the years who have helped to provide the SIRS program to senior citizens in need. As Virpi Loomis wrote, “Our hope is that the beautiful plaque will be displayed in the Inspire building for all to see and appreciate.”
As part of the recognition ceremony, the Loomises received the plaque that says it was presented for “outstanding and dedicated service to the seniors of the Spencer community and surrounding community over the years.” The Robert J. Uplinger Distinguished Service Award honors individuals who demonstrate generous service to others and who truly believe in the Lions’ motto, “We serve.”
The SIRS program is today part of Inspire’s mission of serving the Spencer Van Etten Community. Any senior who lives in the SVE School District can call to access its services, if volunteers are available to help. SIRS as a concept dates back to 2004 and what was then the Senior Committee of the Youth and Community Foundation. A group was meeting at the then Gray Panther room (home of Spencer’s Village Barber Shop now.) Joan Weston provided leadership to folks who recognized that as baby boomers aged, simple things to help people age in place and stay in their homes were needed.
An early identified need was for transportation to appointments, prescription pick-ups, grocery shopping, etc.—basic things difficult to do without a car in a rural community. Transportation was the most critical and frequent need, with calls coming in regularly asking for a ride. Early on the Senior Committee established an 800 number called the Senior Helpline and made up refrigerator magnets to hand out. That number to request assistance is still in use today: 1-888-589-7833.
From the beginning, it was Virpi Loomis who received the calls, responded, and matched a volunteer with the client.
Although calls were mostly for transportation, there were other needs as well, so Virpi assembled large binders filled with useful county and state information for seniors. She still has the binders, although information is typically accessed today via the Internet. As with any good deed in the modern world, to do anything means “buy insurance.” By working with Neighbors Helping Neighbors of Nichols, NY, SIRS, the Senior Committee’s new name, was able to get insurance. In December of 2008, insurance and training for volunteers was in place and SIRS began to operate in earnest.
“We were ready!” said Virpi Loomis. At that time the need for Meals on Wheels for seniors in Van Etten became apparent, so SIRS helped organize that service, too, which continues to this day. Providing transportation may be the most frequent service SIRS provides, but it also does other things. Something small, like changing an overhead light bulb, is not safe for many a senior to do on their own, so Jim Loomis has often run over to do that small chore for someone.
SIRS has helped with other household chores on occasion, including working with the Teen Work Camps to bring accessibility ramps or trailer skirting to a home. Just recently, a woman emailed that she is having a ramp built at her house and offered the stairs being removed to SIRS if they had a client in need of new stairs. Virpi Loomis put out an email and two persons responded, delighted with the possibility of perhaps getting those stairs, as theirs were crumbling.
SIRS is also a source for answering questions such as how to clean gutters or how to register a vehicle during the COVID shutdown. Jim Loomis went along with one younger person applying for assistance, just for moral support. Just offering transportation to someone who needs to get food at the Food Cupboard is much appreciated. SIRS used to offer free tax preparation assistance until COVID hit. Another occasional task was to help someone move.
All of these responses happen because a dedicated group of volunteers is willing to give their time helping others in the community. When Virpi learns of a need or request, she puts it out by email to her list of volunteers and so far, there has almost always been someone able to step in and take that “job.” With the COVID shutdown, a few have declined to leave home until the virus situation improves, but most are still active and willing to help. New volunteers are always welcome as older ones age out or snowbirds go south for the winter. Most transportation trips are to nearby communities. Once a client needed to go to Rochester so Inspire helped to buy them a bus ticket, as no one could drive that far. Drivers are reimbursed 48 cents per mile, although some do not take it but consider it a donation to SIRS’s work.
With typical modesty, Virpi Loomis told Random Harvest, “It’s the program that deserves recognition,” not herself or her husband. However, without a faithful person taking the calls and matching volunteers to client needs, there would be no program. Virpi, Jim, and all the volunteers have been quietly serving for many years, through ups and downs, and their service is much appreciated by a grateful community.