Serving During COVID-19 by Kate Dantzlerward
On the last day I was allowed to do my AmeriCorps service in public, I was in an elementary school helping children with their counting skills. I was inwardly celebrating the promising development of a boy who previously could not add numbers and who finally learned how to add and subtract
A teacher I worked with told me that the schools would shut down and send the children home indefinitely. I told her I understood, but I was hiding disappointment: I loved the children very much, and I felt like a safe place for them. Without being able to be near them, an important part of my service would be gone
So I went back to my host site, gathered my things, and went to my room. I had some tasks to keep me occupied during the start of social isolation, but I knew it would eventually run out. I continued to keep in contact with my supervisor, and I contacted schools, charities, and facilities, offering them volunteer services.
Eventually, the local news station announced that the Billings Food Bank was struggling to meet the needs of the community. Employees had to go home, clients needed supplies, and not enough help was available to keep up a consistent food output. I volunteered my services, and I left to go help the next morning
I took a 3-mile walk to the Billings Food Bank, which took me past several restaurants that had closed and multiple small businesses that had no clients coming in. This was a grim reminder that although Montana had been gently impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in comparison to other states, people trying to make a living were feeling the strain of mandatory isolation
I began my service at the Food Bank by loading up food packages for future clients. Shortly after I began, I was joined by a couple who helped me get the work done in half the time. After routine volunteering visits to the Food Bank, I noticed that people regularly stopped by to donate non-perishable items, fresh fruits, and even toilet paper (a prized item during this difficult time). Witnessing people go out of their way to furnish the Food Bank with supplies helped me re-adjust my perspective on how people manage themselves during crisis; it is so easy to become hyper-focused on the people who hoard and inconvenience others, and too easy to forget the consistent number of people who are looking for ways to help.
During Easter, restaurants and grocery stores donated cheesecakes, apple pies, pastries, fresh greens, and other treats for the holiday giveaways. We assembled these new foodstuffs into packages and had clients fill out forms for them to pick up their Easter materials. On a Wednesday morning, we gave away well over 200 loads of Easter food. Several volunteers came to assist with managing the loads of materials; several employees from Albertsons came, formed assembly lines, and gave out heavy packages to the line of clients. There were so many generous donations that there was food leftover after the 200+ clients had gone.
It has been eye-opening to me to see how many people are looking for ways to make the pandemic bearable for others. Although I am a full-time service member here, I look up to the people I volunteer with who have invested their time and resources into making everyday life endurable for others. I hope that the rest of us can imitate them.