Coping with COVID-19: How to Volunteer and Support Others During This Difficult Time.

Person holding a heart-shaped leaf

For many of us, a frustrating aspect of the COVID-19 situation is that we wish we could do more to help. We see all the terrible consequences—both health consequences and financial consequences—and we’d like to take action.

Of course, different people are in different situations, so not all of these suggestions will apply to everyone. Here are some ideas to consider:

If your situation permits it:

  • Donate blood: the United States is facing a severe blood shortage.
  • Offer to run errands, such as picking up groceries or medication, or walking the dog, for people who need to stay inside.
  • Do “virtual babysitting” for someone with children: for a single parent, parents trying to get work done, or any parent needing a break, you can “babysit” with technology, as long as you find a safe way. Depending on the ages and temperaments of the children, you might read them a book, play “Simon Says,” ask them to do “Show and Tell,” or ask for a performance (my daughters would perform for hours). With older children, perhaps you’re just keeping an eye on them while they occupy themselves—with the ability to call a parent at any moment.
  • Organize a “drive-by party” where people drive by a house at a certain time to show their support, wish someone happy birthday, happy graduation, etc. These teachers and staff from a St. Louis school did a drive-by parade—complete with honking, signs, and balloons—to tell their students they missed them.
  • Create a helpline on a neighborhood social networking site, such as NextDoor or Facebook, where people can ask for support: a single parent, someone who gets injured, an essential worker who needs an errand done.
  • Play an instrument where other people can hear you; sing on the balcony. Here, an opera singer in Barcelona sings Puccini to her neighbors.
  • Pay a very distanced social visit: you can stand on the sidewalk and talk to your parents who stay on their porch.

If you can afford it:

  • Order food for delivery or pick-up, to support local restaurants, restaurant workers, and food-delivery people. Research shows that it’s safe to do so.
  • Buy gift cards for local businesses, like a hair salon, an indie bookstore, or gym.
  • If you have tickets to an arts organization’s canceled performance, don’t ask for a refund.
  • Donate money to food banks, homeless shelters, Meals on Wheels.
  • Continue to pay people even when you’re not using their service, like the barber who cuts your hair.
  • Tip delivery people generously.

No matter what your situation:

  • Connect with friends and family, and encourage others to do so as well—think of this time as “physical distancing” rather than “social distancing.”
  • Reach out frequently to people who may feel isolated.
  • For necessary errands, buy from local stores rather than from the big chains that are better positioned to weather this situation.
  • Surprise someone with a care package, a handwritten letter, or home-decorated postcard by mailing it or dropping it off at their front door.
  • Join a “Clap because we care” or “Make a joyful noise” moment of gratitude—it’s the opposite of a moment of silence. Different cities are showing their support and gratitude for essential workers by clapping, yelling, and cheering at a certain time. Here are some examples from New York City and Seattle.
  • Smile at people when you’re out for exercise or an essential errand—we can smile from a six-foot distance! Together, we can create an atmosphere of support and warmth.

When we take action to support others, we’re helping them get through a tough time—and we’re also helping ourselves get through a tough times. It’s one of my aphorisms: One of the best ways to make ourselves happy is to make other people happy. To be happy, we need to get support, and just as important, to give support.

This is one of the nicest aspects of human nature.

In these difficult times, we can reach out with love—even if we’re doing it from six feet away.

If you want to hear me discuss more ideas for helping your community during this time, watch this short segment with CBS This Morning.

Right now, we’re in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, and it will continue and change for a long time. While everyone across the globe is affected, it’s hitting people differently in different places. Countries are experiencing it at different times, and within the United States, states are being hit at different times. The crisis affects individuals very differently, too; people’s fears and challenges vary dramatically. Wherever we are, we’re all so grateful for the healthcare workers and other essential workers who are doing such important work, so courageously, during this time.

I’m writing from my own experience, at this moment.




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