The past few weeks haven’t been easy for many of us. Our collective world has been turned upside down by the Coronavirus Pandemic. Both the fear surrounding the virus and the measures taken in hopes of lessening its effect have been more than disquieting. In times of crisis, it’s easy to withdraw into yourself, especially when you and your community face something so far beyond your own control. But it’s also times like these when community – and helping your neighbor — matter most.
As an employee of United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA), I was already familiar with INVOLVE, our online volunteer platform. I’d used it in the past to browse volunteer opportunities throughout our community, including delivering Meals on Wheels, various Day of Service projects and even big events, such as Project Homeless Connect. Logging on this time, though, I noticed something new: a whole section with volunteer opportunities to help the community through the Coronavirus crisis. It makes sense, as this is such a fluid situation, that volunteer opportunities are changing every day in response to new measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the health of both clients and volunteers.
Last week, before the City of Birmingham’s shelter in place ordinance, Meals on Wheels needed volunteers to deliver food both to various pick-up locations throughout Jefferson County as well as to individual clients. On a normal day, a volunteer would complete only one of these components, which usually takes about an hour. On this day, however, because of the extenuating circumstances, I offered to do two of each. Dropping off food to the pick-ups was easy and involved very little interaction — in fact, I saw only two other volunteers in one location. We were all delivering meals to seniors, so we waved and chatted at a safe distance, proving once again that social distancing doesn’t mean being un-neighborly.
Delivering meals to clients was hands-down the best part of the day. Each client was so happy to see a smiling face, even if it was a minimum of six feet away. One elderly woman even said, “God bless all of you volunteers for helping us during this trying time.”
As with many things lately, volunteer opportunities are quickly changing. In order to keep seniors healthy, Meals on Wheels is limiting volunteer interaction — and the risk of infection — by delivering 14,000 shelf-stable meals all at once, meaning no volunteers are currently needed to deliver meals. As you may have heard, however, Meals on Wheels is about so much more than a meal. For some seniors, meal deliveries are the only human interaction they’ll have all day, making it not only important socially but also a vital wellness check for our community’s most vulnerable. In light of the Coronavirus outbreak, Meals on Wheels volunteers are now calling seniors in Jefferson County to make sure their basic needs are being met and to check on their well-being.
United Way of Central Alabama’s COVID-19 Response page on INVOLVE is regularly updated with available opportunities, so it’s a great resource if you’re interested in learning how you can help the community. For more general Coronavirus information, visit our COVID-19 Response and Resources page, where you can also make a donation to support UWCA and the critical work done by our direct services and network of more than 80 partner agencies.