By Victoria Hosey
As COVID-19 continues to sweep through college campuses across the country, some families are being forced to confront what is normally a parent’s worst nightmare— being hours away from a child who needs them.
For Oxford resident Mary Beth Mobley, another mother’s pain is her pain too. That’s why she and a group of other sympathetic Oxford moms have taken to preparing close to 80 care packages for Ole Miss students who are in quarantine/isolation for COVID-19.
As the parent of an Ole Miss freshman, Mobley said that she couldn’t sleep at night after seeing posts on Facebook from worried, out-of-state parents whose children who had been ordered to quarantine (for those who been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus) or isolate (for those who have tested positive for the virus).
“I just felt so bad this was going on, and I thought if my kid was in another state, I would want to call a mama,” Mobley said. “I would want to find a mother that understood how I felt, and had the same concerns.”
Soon, Mobley had organized a Facebook group with close to 320 members, comprised of parents of Ole Miss students in quarantine/isolation and Oxford locals ready to assist them.
“I’ve been hearing from parents that are ten hours away, 12 hours away,” Mobley said. “There’s several from California that are sending messages. I think it gives them a little bit of peace and comfort that the community is going to take care of their children.”
Students who choose to enter accommodations provided by Ole Miss are not allowed to leave the housing until their 14-day isolation or quarantine is finished, making it hard for them to get items normally obtained from a quick trip to the store. Therefore, it didn’t take long for requests to help with the various wants and needs of students to start pouring in.
On Friday morning, Mobley and a small group of volunteers met to assemble the first round of packages for students isolated or quarantined on the UM campus. The bags of goodies included popular student staples like Totino’s Pizza Rolls, Cheez-Its, granola bars and bottled water.
While students in quarantine are provided meals by the university, Karen Irby, chef for Upper Crust Food Service in Oxford, said that the group wants to make sure that students also have access to snacks that are microwaveable and easy to make.
“We want to help,” said Irby. “We want to make sure they get food because that’s important to be healthy.”
However, Mobley said that while giving snack items to kids wishing to curb their cravings for pizza or chips is a nice gesture, it is far from the only concern. Phone chargers, hygiene supplies, Tylenol and textbooks are just a few of the things that the group is hoping to find a way to get to students who need them.
“Those are the types of things that once they’re quarantined, they can’t just readily get from the university,” Mobley said. “We’re helpers. We’re not intervenors. We don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. We’re just trying to kind of help fill in some gaps that the university doesn’t have the manpower to do.”
For one student, being able to get the t-shirt required for virtual sorority recruitment is her biggest worry. For another student, it’s help with moving luggage after a recent surgery.
It is unclear exactly how many students are being quarantined or isolated at university accommodations, but The University of Mississippi COVID-19 website lists the Brown Hall dormitory and the Village, Campus Walk and Northgate Apartments as possible quarantine/isolation locations. There are also students quarantined at the Inn at Ole Miss.
There are also students who have opted to quarantine or isolate at private residences off-campus, return to their hometowns, or who are quarantined in Greek houses that have had residents test positive for the virus.
As of Aug. 30, the University of Mississippi has reported 433 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among faculty, staff, and students.
As cases of the virus at the University of Mississippi continue to increase, Mobley and her group of volunteers plan to expand their efforts to get items to students in need. This week, the group plans to deliver packages to various quarantine and isolation accommodations on both Tuesday and Friday.
Those wishing to help or donate items can contact Mobley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mobley said that if she could ask for one thing, it would be for people to show grace to those currently in quarantine and isolation.
“They’re scared,” Mobley said. “I’d be scared if I was told to go into a room for 14 days. Scared of being lonely… I just hope that we’re helping, that we’re offering some sense of comfort. That’s the biggest thing.”
*Editors Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the 433 positive COVID-19 cases were among UM faculty and staff. It has been changed to reflect that the confirmed cases encompass faculty, staff, and students.