For most Wayne State University employees, their daily routine was turned upside-down in mid-March as the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the nation and reached Detroit. Employees had to quickly adapt to working remotely in order to comply with the governor’s ”Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order.
While most of the university’s work force hunkered down at home, the men and women of the Wayne State University Police Department (WSUPD) remained on the job, patrolling the streets and ensuring the safety of the campus and surrounding community.
In early April, Wayne State Chief of Police Anthony Holt was approached regarding a need in the Woodbridge area. The challenge involved the WSUPD helping to address the needs of senior citizens, who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic. Holt listened and agreed to join in the efforts of the “Serving Our Seniors” (S.O.S.) program, administered by local minister and community activist Rev. Dr. Yvette Griffin, pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church.
“The Wayne State Police Department has always maintained a strong community presence in the Woodbridge area, and when we were approached about offering assistance through the S.O.S. program, the concept resonated with me,” said Holt. “Our officers are on the front lines of the community 24/7, so extending their participation to senior wellness checks and non-perishables distribution seemed like a natural extension, particularly as we all are dealing with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the collaborative efforts of Woodbridge organizations such as Pilgrim Baptist Church, Woodbridge Estates and WSUPD, the S.O.S. program is meeting the needs of our seniors.”
Charged with overseeing the officers’ participation in the S.O.S. program, WSUPD Lt. David Zarrieff brought his team together and hit the streets. WSUPD investigators Christopher Powell and Cornelius Lewis join Zarrieff three days a week.
“Our officers follow a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule of reaching out to seniors in the Woodbridge area,” Zarrieff said. “On Mondays and Fridays, officers knock on doors and provide wellness checks with senior residents to make sure they’re okay. Wednesdays, our officers deliver boxes of non-perishable goods, leaving their business cards attached so that the seniors know who to contact if they need assistance.”
Zarrieff said officers are currently stopping at about a half-dozen senior residences, a number he expects to grow in the near future. “The need is there, and we’re prepared to meet it.”
One of the main drivers behind the S.O.S. effort is Griffin, who also is president of the Woodbridge Estates Homeowners Association and vice president of the Woodbridge Citizens Council. Her church has been reaching out to those in need since 2007 through “Food for the Soul,” a program of Survival, Inc. at Pilgrim Baptist Church that provides food for at least 300 families weekly.
“Our people in the church pack the boxes of food and I deliver it in my truck. The officers will either pick up the boxes from me, or I’ll take it to them,” Griffin said. “A lot of people have lost their jobs and can’t get out. We can provide a real blessing.”
Nikole Ward, portfolio supervisor for Woodbridge Estates and Woodbridge Senior Apartments, also is a major partner in the S.O.S. effort. She characterized the potential scope of efforts to reach out to seniors in the housing units as daunting. There are 407 units, with a minimum of three people per unit. When the total number of units is multiplied with the residents in each unit, those numbers demonstrate how many people can be impacted by the types of services offered through S.O.S.
“Woodbridge Estates and its residents are very grateful for the S.O.S program and Survival Inc.. We are blessed that these programs have helped not only the Woodbridge Estates Senior residents, but many people in dire need during this difficult time,” said Ward. “I'd like to personally thank both Rev. Griffin of Pilgrim Baptist Church, who was helping the entire communities prior to this pandemic, and the Wayne State police department, who continue to be a huge support factor throughout the Woodbridge Estate Community. A special thanks to Lt. Zarrieff and his officers.”
Griffin said the S.O.S. program wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of the WSUPD. “I thank God for the leadership of Wayne State Police Chief Anthony Holt. Without his leadership, the areas surrounding Wayne State University would not be a safe and wonderful place to live.
“Wayne State police are a model to follow because they show you how neighborhood policing is supposed to be. The community supports, respects and appreciates the Wayne State police for their true love for the community," Griffin continued. "The S.O.S. program is a blessing to the community during a time of the pandemic, when people are at their lowest and must comply with social distancing. The Wayne State police are caring for the welfare of the most vulnerable and underserved. I see the hand of the Wayne State police reaching out to help those who are in need. May God continue to bless the Wayne State police.”