One of the heartwarming hallmarks of the human spirit is the desire to help each other when tragedies like the novel coronavirus try to beat us down.
So how can you help your community during this time without jeopardizing your health?
Some of us are more fortunate than others. If you're healthy, younger than sixty, and have no pre-existing conditions, then you have more freedoms than those that are considered higher risk. If you need something from the store, you can shop with minimal risk while taking appropriate social distancing precautions. If your job doesn't provide telecommute options, then perhaps you can still walk into the office without too much stress or fear.
But others are not so well off. The sick, the elderly, and those who live with immunocompromised individuals have to be incredibly careful. The CDC lists those with lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes as the most at-risk1. Still, all persons with pre-existing medical conditions should be extremely cautious.
Something as simple as a quick stop at the grocery store can be a source of significant conflict and anxiety. Reach out to your neighbors and offer to be their liaison if they need anything but can't go out.
Social distancing may be a necessary inconvenience of this virus crisis. Still, it doesn't mean that you have to cut people off, especially close family and friends. It can be hard not to go out with friends or host family dinners, but the risk of getting sick for some people is too high. Instead of face-to-face contact, think of other ways to show those closest to you that you're thinking about them.
Reaching out to friends and family can be as simple as exchanging texts, phone, or video calls (via FaceTime, Google Meet, or Zoom). Taking the time to send an old-fashioned letter is also an option that can make someone feel special. The United States Surgeon General and the CDC have indicated that COVID-19 is unlikely to be spread from domestic or international mail, products, or packaging2. For this reason, sending postcards, letters, or photographs is considered a safe way to connect with people you're unable to spend time with in-person.
Remember, it's not so much physical isolation that takes a toll on us; it's emotional isolation. Social distancing or even quarantining becomes much more bearable if you stay in touch with friends, family, and coworkers.
Small businesses generate 44% of United States economic activity and contribute 65% of all new jobs3. These companies, vital to our local economy, are taking a hit right now due to stalled travel, strict social distancing guidelines, and decreased demand for many commodities.
Many major corporations have cash reserves or access to credit lines that can help them weather the storm. Unfortunately, small, locally-owned businesses don't have the same safety nets. Locally-owned stores are struggling at the moment, which could cause ripple effects throughout the whole community.
If you're unable to safely go out and patronize your favorite restaurants, stores, or coffee shops right now, consider buying gift cards. Purchasing store credit is a fantastic way to tide over small businesses that are hurting financially without compromising your health and safety.
Food banks are in high demand right now. Check with your local banks to see if they are accepting donations and what items might be most useful.
Understand that these non-profits may not prefer food donation at a time like this. Instead, consider monetary contributions, which are always welcome at these institutions as they work tirelessly to help the least fortunate. Donating money to a food bank gives them more flexibility with their stock. It allows them to serve the unique needs of each community more accurately.
You can go further than your local food bank, as well. Charities like Meals on Wheels already do a lot of great work for the elderly and the sick, and we need their efforts now more than ever.
If you're healthy enough to donate blood, consider doing so. A massive strain has been put on our healthcare system, exposing cracks and flaws in our hospital networks and disaster preparedness. Blood donations are always in high demand, but right now, especially so. Many hospitals are buckling under the weight of too many patients and slow testing. Donating blood is a small act that can make a significant difference, saving up to three lives4.
Just because you can't physically go to the food bank to help distribute meals doesn't mean there are not opportunities to volunteer. The online tool Catchafire can help pair you with the perfect non-profit. Many of the charities and non-profits you come across will be specifically addressing COVID. Still, even those that are more broadly focused need your assistance.
Volunteering can also help improve your own social and mental health. Learn more about these benefits by reading 8 Reasons to Volunteer at a Local Organization.
Mutual aid networks are nothing new. You've probably been involved with one before by having friends and family who care for each other.
Organized mutual aid networks are community-run, action-focused groups that have come together to identify and address a specific need. There are mutual aid networks for food distribution, community bail funds, and general community support. In the era of COVID-19, mutual aid networks focused on helping people handle the emotional, medical, and financial ramifications of the pandemic are springing up everywhere. If you can't find any mutual aid networks in your area, consider starting one yourself5.
Whenever things start to feel overwhelming, take a moment to remember the people standing up and working the front lines for all of us. This pandemic has brought to light just how much we rely on people who work essential jobs like emergency services, food service, and public transit6.
When times are prosperous, it's easy to forget just how vital these hardworking people are to our society. Even more, traditionally "heroic" positions like healthcare workers or public safety officials get taken for granted. Now may be the perfect time to dust off your gratitude journal (or start a new journal) and pen an entry or two for those that are risking their health and wellbeing to make sure our world keeps turning.
With mutual support, both physical and emotional, we can move beyond COVID-19 and emerge more resilient than ever.
(1) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (May 2020) People Who Are at Higher Risk for Severe Illness
(2) United States Postal Service (June 2020) USPS® Coronavirus Updates for Residential Customers
(3) U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy (Jan 2019) Small Businesses Generate 44 Percent Of U.S. Economic Activity
(4) American Red Cross (June 2020) Facts About Blood Supply in The U.S.
(5) Zerkel M (May 2020) How to create a mutual aid network
(6) Official California State Government Website (April 2020) Essential Workforce