GULFPORT — Senior citizens living alone in Gulfport don't have to be afraid something will happen to them and no one will know about it.
They can sign up to get a friendly morning check-in call from a volunteer in the Senior Center's Reassurance Program.
Like dutiful daughters and sons, volunteers phone every person who has signed up for the program six days a week, Monday through Saturday.
Just to see if they are okay.
"This program is not set up for only individuals who are not able to care for themselves, but for individuals who find it important to feel secure in their home, knowing that someone cares," said volunteer Lorraine DelBene, who has been making calls for four years.
"This is like a lifeline for people in Gulfport who like to hear a voice on the other end of the phone," DelBene said. "The calls are made with love."
If a resident doesn't answer the phone, volunteers try again in a little while. If there is still no answer, the resident's contact person is called. If there is still no response, Gulfport police are called to check up on the resident. That doesn't happen very often, but there have been a couple of times when residents were transported to a hospital as a result of the calls.
Eight volunteers do three-day rotations phoning residents. They make the calls from an office in the Senior Center, but when the program started in 1969, long before the center at 5501 27th Ave. S was built in 1983, calls were made from wherever they could be made.
There are 29 seniors enrolled in the program, down from 60 a few years ago, Susan Frank, Senior Center supervisor, said.
Most are women in their 80s and 90s, said senior services coordinator Cynthia Dean, who schedules the phone volunteers.
Even though the last census showed there were 400 people living alone in Gulfport, many are too proud to ask for help, Frank said.
"They don't want to say they need help but if they live alone, they are at risk," Frank said.
Volunteer Gloria Impagliazzo said it takes about a half hour to call the 29 residents — longer if some are particularly chatty. But not all are.
"One man simply says 'I'm okay' when he picks up the phone," Impagliazzo said.
DelBene said her most memorable call was more about the well-being of a cat than the well-being of a resident.
"I called a lady up and she was all upset she couldn't find her cat," DelBene said.
"I told her, 'Calm yourself down. Take one of your nerve pills. Maybe if you settle down, your cat will come out. I'll call you back,' " DelBene said.
Sure enough, when she phoned back, she was told the cat had been found — sound asleep right next to the chair the woman was sitting in.
Pets or residents, it doesn't matter. Volunteers are always happy to find everyone is okay.
"When I hear in their voices how grateful they are, I know it was worth getting all bundled up on a cold morning to come in and call them," Impagliazzo, a 17-year resident of Town Shores, said.