Volunteer Safely

By June 26, 2020 No Comments

Even with the summertime sun, many people feel they need a bit of a “pick me up” as we face another season living with COVID-19. Volunteering might give you the boost you need. Studies have shown volunteering helps improve depression, life satisfaction and wellbeing.

“Actively contributing to the common good through volunteering can boost your mood, give you a higher sense of purpose and take your mind off of your own worries,” said Susan Perri, vice president of Marketing & Communication at United Way Fox Cities, a Be Safe Wisconsin partner. “Undoubtedly, we could all gain from these benefits right now.”

“Get” more than you give and stay safe while doing so. There are numerous ways to volunteer and it starts by understanding your comfort level with in-person interactions during the pandemic. “If you are not comfortable volunteering on-site at a nearby nonprofit, keep your eye out for opportunities that are virtual, remote, or can be completed solo,” Perri suggested.

Experts note it is important to take into consideration your time and talents, and even experience and energy, when deciding where and how to give. Most organizations have limited resources and training for new volunteers, so think about how best you can fit into current needs immediately. If a “good fit” cannot be found at first, stay alert to different opportunities as the pandemic progresses. Your abilities might be just what nonprofits need as guidelines and the community change.

Safe on-site interactions

“Our volunteers are grateful to have an outlet with which to leave their house and make a difference,” said Dustin Herrmann, Volunteer Engagement Coordinator at Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, a Be Safe Wisconsin partner. The organization is accepting volunteers at its general warehouse for food sorting and packing. “We strive to make it a fun, welcoming and an inclusive atmosphere. It really does benefit a volunteer’s mental and emotional wellbeing to be able to interact with others in a safe environment.”

The organization has developed a strict COVID-19 Hygiene and Safety Response. Herrmann said, “Human interaction is key, and we take the safety and health of our volunteers very seriously to ensure everyone can come, give back to the community and stay safe while doing so.” At the organization’s Appleton and Milwaukee sites, no more than 10 volunteers can “work” a shift for social distancing sake.

Most organizations recruiting volunteers recognize the importance of prioritizing the health of volunteers, staff and clients. “Although each organization’s policies and guidelines for volunteers will vary, most are adapting their processes to follow through on our common goal of physically distancing and wearing face coverings,” Perri said.

Other in-person ways to serve can be found on the Volunteer Fox Cities webpage, which hosts a collection of volunteer opportunities. A couple include:

  • Assist with childcare. The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley needs volunteers to help staff care for multiple small groups of children, most of whose parents are healthcare and essential workers. Because of the close contact involved with this volunteer work, excellent hand hygiene is required.
  • Donate blood and plasma. “Save someone’s summer by saving their life,” notes The Community Blood Center, a Be Safe Wisconsin partner, whose Tour 2020 mobile blood drive happens throughout the summer, stopping in many communities in Northeast Wisconsin. You may also visit one of the permanent donor center locations in Appleton, Little Chute, Oshkosh or Woodruff. “Patients rely on transfusions to fight life-threatening medical conditions and for routine medical care. This summer is especially important as procedures and surgeries that were postponed for COVID-19 are occurring.” If you have fully recovered from a COVID-19 infection, you are encouraged to donate convalescent plasma, which can be used to potentially treat patients with severe cases of the coronavirus.

Volunteers and organizations must adhere to the most current government restrictions and Centers for Disease Control guidance. The United Way has these general recommendations for staying safe as you volunteer on-site during COVID-19:

  • Stay home if you feel sick, show signs of illness or have been in recent contact with ill people.
  • Wear face masks to avoid possibly exposing community members.
  • Know your exact roles and responsibilities on-site.
  • Study the health and safety policies of the organization.

Contribute with limited contact

For people who want to keep their distance, helping with more limited contact, consider these options.

  • Donate supplies. As you shop, consider throwing a few more personal care and cleaning supply items into your cart to contribute to Compassionate Home Health Care, a Be Safe Wisconsin partner that strives to “help individuals and their families have a cleaner and healthier start to their day.” Get the latest on safely dropping off items at designated locations here as part of its COVID-19 Response: Community That Cares #letsmakeadifference campaign.
  • Drive for pickup or delivery. Many organizations need drivers to pick-up and deliver supplies and food, including Compassionate Home Health Care and Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin.

Going solo safely from home

For people who want to give from the safety of their home, here are some more options.

  • Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin has unveiled a new Virtual Food Drive. The organization posts its most needed food items for those in need. Community members purchase it online. The food then is delivered directly to the Feeding America warehouse.
  • Homemade fabric masks are still in demand. Consider sewing and then donating them to frontline workers combating COVID-19. The United Way has instructions on how to make masks and where to donate them. Here is one of many instructional videos on making a cloth mask.
  • The Phone Pals Program provides comfort to individuals who are homebound and in need of a good conversation. Currently, there is in no need for volunteers, but that might change as we approach the holiday season.

A diverse group of people typically volunteer – from young families that want to teach their children about the importance of giving back, to students looking to fill summer hours with meaningful opportunities and workplaces wanting to engage their employees in volunteerism. Many nonprofits also rely on dedicated retired adults who commit to fill weekday opportunities.

“Because COVID-19 health risks are higher for older adults, it is likely that some of these spots will now be open,” said Perri. “As everyone settles into a different normal, it will be important for others to step forward to fill these opportunities and volunteer.”