To keep one of the most vulnerable sections of its population as safe as possible during the dire winter months, and amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, Union County has begun to assemble and distribute bags full of essential items to assist these residents in case of emergency.

County Commissioner Kimberly Palmieri-Mouded said people with disabilities and special needs may not always be able to access what they need in a pinch, so these clear backpacks contain a whistle, batteries, and medical supplies such as Advil or Tylenol, plus personal protective equipment like face masks, alcohol wipes and gloves.

As of the end of 2020, the To-Go Bags program had given out about 500 bags, and Palmieri-Mouded said funding for further materials will be sought if demand continues.

"We also are taking (bag requests) on need-by-need basis over the phone, so if someone from the community needs a bag or would like a bag, they can contact our office," she said.

Enter your number to get our free mobile app

As the liaison to the county Office for Persons with Disabilities & Special Needs, Palmieri-Mouded said she heard from one resident who said Union County had offered such packages in the past. County officials, she said, figured there was no better time than now to revive the idea.

Community and parent groups which provide, among other things, job opportunities, senior housing, and services to group homes, gave their input as to what specific items would be most desired.

"Sometimes there's things we don't think about that, 'Oh, wow, that is something that would be important to be put in that bag.' So that's how we definitely got our supply list," Palmieri-Mouded said.

The county has held monthly Zoom meetings with many of those community partners, but otherwise has been getting the word out about the To-Go Bags on its website and social media channels.

Even while the pandemic continues, Union County has kept up services like special needs karate and cooking classes on digital platforms -- providing "whatever we can," Palmieri-Mouded said.

To find out more information or to request a To-Go Bag, call 908-527-4807 or email opdsn@ucnj.org.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

CHECK OUT: Where NJ's biggest winning lottery tickets were sold