In times of widespread crisis, workers may not be essential but volunteers are. Ordinary people are typically the first to assist in a disaster and the last ones to leave. Volunteerism, unlike vocation, demands civic character and exemplifies the ideal of democracy. It acknowledges that the well-being of every individual is integral to the well-being of society as a whole. With lives en masse at stake, the pandemic has intensified the call to volunteer—that is, to demonstrate with purpose how one is indispensable to others.
Here are three ways to be essential right now:
1. Give blood, platelets, and plasma
Problem: Imagine waiting years for an organ, finally finding a match, and then being refused surgery; because there aren’t enough blood products to perform the procedure.
COVID-19 has led to the cancellation of 13,000 school and workplace drives, which dovetailed the decline caused by the recent flu and cold season. The shortage of blood products is so severe, the American Red Cross is triaging units to ascertain which hospitals get these irreplaceable lifelines.
Solution: While giving blood products does require person-to-person contact, blood banks have intensified their safety precautions to protect all involved. Donating only takes one hour. Our partner Vitalant operates 17 community donation centers in the Chicagoland area.
2. Donate money instead of goods to a shelter
Problem: We’re only as safe as our least protected neighbors, and one cannot shelter in place without a shelter. The homeless population has a double vulnerability to the virus. First is the increased likelihood of contracting it when living in a transient community. Consider how anxiety-producing it must be not to be able to wash your hands with soap right now.
Second is the high rate of already compromised immune systems among the population facing housing instability. Due to a lack of healthcare, ailments such as diabetes, heart disease, and hepatitis are prevalent among individuals experiencing homelessness according to Jimmy Jones, executive director of an agency that works directly with that community. Their bodies cannot fight off the virus as effectively as those without underlying conditions.
Keep in mind a medical emergency is what forced some to live on the streets in the first place. None of us are invulnerable to this type of catastrophe—even after the curve drops. When Tracy Semrow, who earned a six-figure salary, was diagnosed with a degenerative connective tissue disorder; the cost of her treatment depleted her finances and obliged her to give up her home.
Solution: Protect the most vulnerable members of our community by supporting nonprofits that can provide them with a place to stay. The safest way is to contribute a monetary gift online. While donating goods might seem equally helpful, that requires staff to sort and sanitize items, which, in turn, costs time and diminishing funds and exposes them to unnecessary risk.
3. Take the time to think before you speak or repost/retweet
Problem: In addition to coughing and sneezing, words have a greater impact now too. When fear elevates from an emotion to a climate, prejudice rears its ugly head in the forms of violence, intimidation, profiling, stereotyping, micro-aggressions, and ignorance.
The manifold losses that have disrupted our daily lives may feel like unjust punishment. And the instinct to place blame when we feel powerless is natural. This kneejerk reaction, however, only worsens our situation. Viruses are inevitable evolutionary outcomes. We, as a world, should consequently probe our many, problematic interactions with animals. Blaming people outside of one’s ethnic community for the repercussions of forces outside of one’s control, in contrast, only catalyzes racist scapegoating.
Solution: Combating prejudice, which is often implicit, requires one to pause and reflect on the instinct to place blame. When you hear people calling COVID-19 the Wuhan coronavirus or Chinese virus, remember that associating an ethnicity or race with a source of profound fear thwarts rather than facilitates truth-seeking. This virus has a scientific name that helps us understand how it functions in relation to other viruses.
Disaster is bound to hurt the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups the hardest. But creativity and resourcefulness also tend to emerge when solving new problems. Leverage those inner strengths to step up and help meet the most fundamental needs at this time. That is, embody the kind of selflessness the world needs right now. Before you speak or do, #BeEssential by thinking relationally, of what it takes to build inclusivity. You will have an effect either way, and that effect will indirectly touch everyone.
If you enjoyed what you read, please leave us a $5 tip. Your donation is essential to the survival of HOSC, which amplifies the reach of local disaster volunteerism efforts while providing long-term K-12 education and aging-at-home services to those most in need.
- Choosing to #BeEssential: An Interview with a Self-Directed Volunteer and Donor - April 21, 2020
- #BeEssential: 3 Ways You Can Address the Societal Ills Exposed by the Coronavirus - April 14, 2020
- Choosing to #BeEssential: An Interview with a Volunteer Tackling Hunger During the COVID-19 Pandemic - April 7, 2020