By Adrianne Robertson
Writer and Content Strategist
Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health
With the coronavirus pandemic the world is facing, the need for volunteers and community activism is growing. Many individuals and families are without jobs or steady income, or unable to find food and other basic needs due to business/school closures and store shortages.
Not only are nonprofits, churches and community organizations around the nation stepping up, but kindhearted people who simply want to make a difference are eager to find ways to give back. At a time when the nation is urged to practice social distancing, is volunteering safe? The short answer is ‘yes – as safe as we make it.’
As you consider donating your time, efforts or resources, there are precautions you can take to help you and those you encounter remain healthy and safe. Read on to find out how you can make an impact during this immense time of need, as well as specific ways you can contribute in Indiana (if you’re in other cities or states, check out your local or state government’s website, or look into resources at your local United Way and/or community foundation).
How to stay safe as a volunteer
Whether you volunteer formally with an organization or informally with members of your community, always prioritize your safety and well-being. Limiting the spread of COVID-19 is of utmost importance. If you have been in contact with someone with any fever, cough, or other symptoms of COVID-19, or if you are not feeling well or think you may have COVID-19, do not volunteer for any in-person efforts. Stay home, call your doctor, and separate yourself from others.
Here’s how you can help yourself and others stay safe as you give back:
1. Protect yourself. Take the recommended public health precautions at all times, which include washing your hands often and for at least 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available, avoiding touching your face with unwashed hands, and maintaining six feet of distance between yourself and other people.
2. Individuals at higher risk should avoid physical contact with others. As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or hypertension may be at higher risk for more serious complications from COVID-19. Individuals at higher risk who want to volunteer should consider opportunities that do not involve close physical contact with others, such as remote duties and administrative or support functions.
3. Prepare for your shift. Carry personal items that may help during volunteer shifts, such as water, antibacterial wipes or hand sanitizer with an alcohol content of 60 percent or greater, prescriptions/inhalers, snacks, and a phone charger. Also dress weather appropriate.
4. Call ahead when helping others. When offering to help those in your neighborhood or community, never show up unannounced. Call first and arrange to drop items at their door. Avoid entering others’ homes unless absolutely necessary. Practice social distancing by keeping a minimum of six feet between you and any other person.
5. Volunteer virtually. Consider virtual ways to give back, such as online giving funds, charity drives, or virtual volunteer opportunities. There are many nonprofits and businesses in need of virtual assistants to help with organizational tasks, order placements and customer relations.
6. Again, if you have had any contact with another person who has not been feeling well, or if you, personally, feel in any way unwell, do not volunteer for activities that require you to leave your home. This includes any symptoms of cough, fever, chills, headache, fatigue, sore throat, muscle aches or pains, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Ways to join the response
Looking to help with the local response to COVID-19? There are countless ways to volunteer or donate in Indianapolis. Your service can be hands-on or from the comfort of your home (via internet). Take a look below at how Indy residents can support our community through this public health crisis.
Because of COVID-19, the CDC is encouraging people who are well to donate blood if they are able. The CDC is supporting blood centers by providing recommendations that will keep donors and staff safe, such as spacing donor chairs six feet apart, thoroughly adhering to environmental cleaning practices, and encouraging donors to make donation appointments ahead of time.
Versiti Blood Center of Central Indiana is accepting donations at their downtown, Carmel, Fishers and Greenwood centers. The American Red Cross is also seeking donors. Remember, each unit of donated blood can save up to three lives.
Donate food or resources
Food banks and pantries throughout Indiana are in need of donations, from nonperishable foods and water to household and cleaning supplies. A few food banks in need of donations and/or assistance are IUPUI’s Paws Pantry, Gleaners Food Bank, and Horizon House. United Way has also compiled a list of organizations that have urgent need.
The Central Indiana COVID-19 Community Economic Relief Fund has been established to help ensure individuals, children and families in need are supported during this pandemic. United Way of Central Indiana and a coalition of partners are working with the human services sector to identify these immediate needs and make emergency funds available to organizations working directly with vulnerable populations. Funds like this rely on the generosity of donors, and provide a safe way to make a difference in the COVID-19 response.
At IUPUI, individuals can donate to the Jaguar Persistence Fund or the Student Emergency Response Fund by reaching out to Ty Davis or Shaina Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are a student who needs support on the IUPUI campus, please complete the campus application and contact the IUPUI Office of Student Advocacy and Support.
Volunteer your time and effort
If you aren’t able to make donations, or would like to assist in person, offer your time to help pack and distribute gift bags, food kits, care packages and other items. Many of the organizations listed under Donate Food or Resources above are also seeking volunteers willing to work shifts. You can also consider volunteering as a Community Navigator for Indiana 211, helping those in crisis prioritize their needs and then connecting them to valuable community resources. Volunteers work from the safety of their own home.
With all bars and restaurants transitioning to carry-out only to slow the spread of the virus, we can help support those who work in the restaurant industry by ordering food for delivery or takeout.
Visit indy.gov for more ways to volunteer or donate in Indianapolis during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Interested in learning more about volunteering during this time? Check out our next post about specific ways to safely volunteer for nonprofits during this pandemic.