As members of the Area Agency on Aging of Southeast Arkansas conduct a longstanding “Beat the Heat Fan Drive,” they hope to distribute more than fans and air conditioners. They hope to spark some connections within neighborhoods – particularly among people whose lives may lean toward the solitary.

“We advise the neighborhood to check on their friends, family and neighbors who basically stay alone and have no air conditioning,” said Carolyn Ferguson, officer of community services with the Area agency. “And it’s important that you check on your pets.”

Ferguson noted some other practical bits of advice designed to help people deal with summer heat, as well.

“One of the things we do advise them to do is to drink plenty of fluid, and to avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol,” she said. “And we advise them to wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing.”

Ferguson also underlined the importance of awareness, of neighbors watching out for fellow neighbors’ well-being.

Ferguson and James Word, the Area agency’s interim executive director, talked about the fan and air-conditioner drive recently at the agency’s offices in Pine Bluff, noting that the program has been in operation for more than three decades. People interested in donating fans or air conditioners – or funds for the units – may call the agency at (870) 543-6300, Ferguson said. Donations remain within the county where they occur, she added.

Ferguson and Word stressed that the units should be new, not used, and that air conditioners should be energy-efficient.

Residents who need the units may also call the agency at that same number. To receive units, residents must be 60 years old or older, or they must experience a disability, Ferguson explained. An announcement from the agency noted that applicants “will be asked to present ID and award letter from Social Security office or Department of Human Services.”

One of the people helped by the agency was Joann Blair, who lives on Texas Street in Pine Bluff.

“About 10 years ago they gave me an air conditioner, which I needed bad, and last year they gave me a fan,” she said. “That really helped me a lot.”

Blair said people from the agency also took time to talk with her.

“They just kind of understood my needs,” she said. “They helped other people too, I noticed.”

Ferguson and Word mentioned some tough living conditions for people in the community. Word said that for some residents, electrical wiring creates a challenge for air-conditioner use – and so the fan becomes the more feasible option.

“Some of them may live in such conditions that their electrical system might not even support an air conditioner because of the wiring and the age of the housing,” he said.

Both Ferguson and Word stressed, too, that lacking a fan or air conditioner might signal a larger web of concerns. Ferguson said Area agency staff members may find that older people living alone need help with health care or energy bill payment, for instance. And that, Word added, is information that they may not always be willing to share.

“Elderly people are less likely to advocate for themselves and tell you what their needs are,” Word said. “They are more close-lipped about their personal business. A lot of times it takes a person going out there, a nurse or a case manager, to do an assessment to find out and to help them – because they are not going to volunteer any information other than that they want a fan.”

Blair agreed with that assessment.

“Sometimes they need stuff and they’re not going to say anything about it,” she said.

The Area Agency on Aging for Southeast Arkansas serves 10 counties, including Jefferson. Ferguson and Word said that, in past drives, faith-based organizations, local businesses and individuals have all been instrumental in contributions.

People seeking more information – or who would like to donate or receive help – may call the Area agency at (870) 543-6300 or (800) 264-3260. They may ask for Ferguson or information specialist Pauline Jones.

The fan drive runs until July 31.