How to Help Your Community Through the COVID-19 Crisis
Hoosiers pride themselves on volunteering (remember knitting Super Bowl scarves?), but stay-at-home orders are in tension with that impulse. What’s better right now, staying out of the way or fearlessly pitching in? Nonprofits providing essential services are exempt from Gov. Eric Holcomb’s stay-at-home order. “Volunteers are the engine that keeps a lot of organizations running, and lot of those organizations are needed and in need right now,” says Stan Soderstrom, executive director of Indy-based Kiwanis International, a global service network with more than half a million members.
The ways to help from home are expanding as nonprofits shift their volunteer opportunities to virtual ones. Selfless.ly, an Indy-based tech company in the philanthropy space, is close to launching a new matchmaking service for nonprofits and the legions of potential homebound volunteers on virtualgiveback.org. It’s also working to recruit membership-based professional organizations into the volunteer pool to ensure that helpers are qualified. “We have a large amount of people sitting at home that will eventually run out of shows to watch,” says Selfless.ly CEO Josh Driver. “Let’s figure out other things a virtual volunteer could do. It’s not always the mission-critical opportunities. Do you need a new website? Do you need content? Things you need to get done in the office that maybe someone at home could be doing. Personally, I don’t understand SEO. I could learn it, but is there an SEO expert who could do it in 10 minutes?”
Some critical needs, though, can only be served in person, like food relief, one of the most urgent concerns to emerge during the COVID-19 outbreak. But groups don’t have time to train new volunteers right now. In those cases, donations of money go a long way. Here’s a good example: Midwest Food Bank has plenty of experienced volunteers. What they don’t have is the normal supply of nearly expired food from grocery stores as shelves are being cleaned out. Ramping up to purchase about $250,000 worth of food each week, the group needs cash on hand to jump on opportunities. It missed a truckload last week because it had only 30 minutes to claim it. The driver had the money from someone else within 15.
If you’re feeling stir-crazy, there are good reasons to volunteer in person. Donating blood is one of them. The American Red Cross canceled 10,000 blood drives through March 27, and some regular donors are skipping appointments to stay home. The major organizations have implemented new safety protocols and still welcome donors. For any in-person volunteering, though, choose wisely. “Do so only with an organization you know to be responsible,” says Soderstrom. “This is not a time to take chances.”
For ways to get involved from home or to help by showing up, please click here.