Hundreds of people in Boston have offered to 'buddy up' with veterans dealing with social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic

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City officials were optimistic about their new program to pair up volunteers with veterans in coronavirus isolation, but they weren’t necessarily expecting what happened next.

The city was flooded with so many people wanting to help they made a new email account to stop it from overwhelming the normal Veterans Services inbox.

But that’s what they’ve had to do as more than 500 volunteers have offered to “buddy up” with Boston vets through a new program aimed at checking in on a fairly vulnerable population in this global pandemic.

“It’s an outpouring of support from the community,” Veterans Services Commissioner Robert Santiago told the Herald on Friday. “It just warms my heart to see how much people want to connect with veterans.”

The city rolled the program out earlier this week and expected to have vets and vols paired up by Friday, but the big response has them looking for more veterans and continuing to pair people up.

A big part of the idea is just to give some company to veterans, many of whom are aging and can’t have much contact otherwise as social distancing measures drag on.

“A lot of our veterans are socially isolated now,” Santiago said, adding that this is a great chance for people to learn a bit more about the people who served, talking to them on the phone or by email.

Santiago, a Navy veteran of Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom himself, said, “We love to tell our stories — talk to the veteran, listen to their story.”

Volunteers would also be checking in on the veterans to make sure they’re OK, and might help them out by bringing them food.

“It’s also an opportunity to check up on our veterans,” Santiago said. “A lot of our veterans are at risk — we have a high aging population.”

Older adults and people with pre-existing conditions are the most at risk of severe sickness and death from the coronavirus, which can lead to major breathing issues and heart failure in its worst cases. COVID-19 has swept the world in the past few months, sickening more than a million people and killing more than 58,000 worldwide. As of Friday, Massachusetts had 10,402 people sick and 192 dead of the disease, including 10 deaths and 1,366 positive tests in Boston.

“And the most at risk are those experiencing homelessness,” Santiago said, estimating there there’s likely well over 150 homeless veterans in Boston.

Any veteran who wants to take part — or the family of a vet who wants to. sign them up — can email veterans@boston.gov, and people who want to volunteer can email that new account of vetvolunteer@boston.gov.

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