First of all, volunteering in a way that violates the shelter-in-place, social distancing rules is a very bad idea. Most volunteering work that would violate those rules has been shut down anyway. As is true in other disasters, please leave the front-line work to trained volunteers and highly skilled professionals.
Second, one of the most powerful things you can do right now is give money and gift cards. Cash is easy to deploy, flexible, infinitely useful, and what nonprofits and the people they serve need most. Right now, nonprofits are having to lay-off and furlough employees, even those nonprofits whose services are most in need. Cash helps them pay their bills, pay their employees, and make sure they can be there for their clients. See this list of all of the funds accepting donations right now.
But if you still feel compelled to “do something”, there are lots of ways you and your family can help others in the community safely and distantly. Here’s a list of some we’ve found so far. Nonprofits are getting clever about finding ways to utitlize volunteers in this crisis – mostly because they need so much help – so keep an eye out for more to come.
Make and donate masks.
Austin health officials now recommend that everyone wear a protective face mask when out in public. Homemade and fabric masks are no substitute for social distancing or the medical-grade face masks that should be reserved for healthcare professionals, but they have been shown to slow down the spread of COVID-19.
Austin Public Health has created a checklist for ensuring the masks are effective as well as no-sew mask instructions here. Fabric, elastic, and bias tape can be hard to come by right now, but you can also use t-shirts and other material already in your house. If you can sew, there are many easy-to-follow instructional videos out there now.
Right now, Foundation Communities in seeking masks for their staff and residents, and you might also consider making and donating washable masks for other nonprofits that offer residential services. Nonprofits like SAFE, Saint Louise House, Jeremiah Program, Caritas of Austin, Casa Marianella, Salvation Army, and Austin Recovery all have provide housing for people in need.
Send cards to nursing homes.
The USPS says that the CDC and World Health Organization have both stated that there is no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail. So feel free to either use purchased cards or create them yourself.
Our advice would be to send them to a nursing home near you. Contact the nursing home in advance and ask how many they might need. Most nursing homes have 40-50 residents. Put each card in an envelope with a nice note inside and on the front, and mail them in a larger envelope to the home.
We advise that you do wash your hands before making and addressing the cards, and use a damp paper towel rather than spit to seal the envelope.
Call and support home bound seniors.
Family Eldercare’s “Lifetime Connection Without Walls” program offers a flexible way to help seniors stay connected and reduce feelings of isolation but pairing them with volunteers who call them for conversation and games. Commitment can range from weekly to once a month, and it’s easy to do from home.
Drive-A-Senior organizations are also looking Phone Buddies and Senior Buddies who can call and check in on seniors, see if they need any groceries, medicine, or other items, and shop for them. You arrange to have them pay you for the items, of course.
Help women prepare for interviews.
Dress for Success Austin is looking for volunteers to provide image consulting over the phone or video chat. The client will send photos of three outfits they’re considering for an interview, and you help them talk through the outfits, coach them on interview skills, and build their confidence. With more women seeking employment, Dress for Success will be adding more clients in the near future. Help them keep up with the demand.
Distribute food and supplies.
The Central Texas Food Bank is seeing huge numbers of families coming to pantries needing food. With unemployment on the rise and school districts restricting food distribution to students only, families are looking for ways to stretch their limited dollars. This past weekend, it handed out more than 1,500 boxes of free food in three hours, which hundreds of cars lined up to receive.
The food bank still needs volunteers – maybe now more than ever – and has made provisions to keep them safe. Read here about how you can volunteer at the food bank or a food pantry.
Share a story to inspire young women.
Con Mi Madre has launched a social media campaign that asks anyone to share a story about how they overcame a challenge to uplift the Latino community. It can be about something you did for your family, your neighborhood, a local business, or a friend. You never know how your story might change someone’s life. Share your story or read others’ on Facebook.
The shelter-in-place ordinance forced the cancellation of all group blood drives, yet We Are Blood still needs to maintain the supply for over 40 hospitals and clinics in our area. On an average day, We Are Blood needs to receive at least 200 blood donations in order to maintain an adequate blood supply. It’s important to note also that there are restrictions as to who can show up to donate blood, mostly so that you’re not a coronavirus danger to the people around you.
They’re asking blood donors to schedule an appointment to give blood at one of three donation centers or at the new appointment-only blood drives located across the region.
Get the kids involved.
Our friends at Generation Serve have put a great list of kid-simple activities for volunteering at home. See the list here.