Nation's Elderly Touched by Della Reese

06/03/2003 at 03:01 PM EDT

"Touched by an Angel" star Della Reese dropped into the nation's capital to spread the good word -- and encourage volunteers to help the elderly, PEOPLE reports from its Washington, D.C., bureau.

"It's time for me to give something back," says Reese, the new spokesperson for Faith in Action, an organization that helps communities link volunteers with those who need help with such everyday tasks as shopping, cooking, housework and caring for pets.

Reese tells PEOPLE: "It's such a simple thing. You find people who need help, and you find people who can give help, and you put the two together. Just simply people helping people."

Reese was shocked to learn of one senior citizen who was forced to sit in the dark all night, unable to change the light bulb without assistance. She says little gestures such as changing a light bulb or picking up a prescription can help the elderly maintain their independence.

"I would scream, and kick, and fight to keep my independence," says Reese, who will be 72 in July. "It's very important to me. I want to be in my home with my things. I worked hard for that home. That's where I'm safe, and I'm comfortable, and that's where I want to be. I can understand anyone else feeling the same way."

Now that her popular CBS show has wrapped up after nine years, Reese says she plans to remain close to costar Roma Downey, and looks forward to the new work she'll be doing with Faith in Action.

"I'm hoping that there is a correlation between all the work that I do," says Reese. " 'Touched by an Angel' gave me a chance to speak on the things that I espouse, and Faith in Action also gives me a chance to do that."

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