Volunteering has always been a big part of my life. Working with animals has been my primary passion: fostering orphan kittens, walking rescue dogs, and even working as an adoption counselor for a feline rescue organization.
But all of that changed this past spring when the COVID-19 lockdown took effect. Having recently moved to a new city, I had just completed my volunteer orientation with my local animal shelter in March. I was all set to work with the animals when the shelter closed to the public. After weeks of quarantine, I began to wonder: What are some safe ways to give back during COVID-19?
Work with animals
One silver lining of lockdown was the initial increase in pet adoptions; however, as many animal shelter workers are quick to remind us: That doesn’t necessarily mean there is a shortage of rescue animals. Be part of the solution by checking in with your local animal shelter to see what their needs are. Walking dogs that are up for adoption is a great opportunity for these rescue canines to get the exercise and attention they need.
Best of all, working with animals is therapeutic, which can help combat pandemic stress. When I was going through a career change, I walked dogs for my neighborhood animal shelter. I found that taking care of animals helped me get out of my head and set daily stressors aside, which ultimately gave me the clarity to work through my next career steps.
If dogs aren’t your thing, you can also open your home to other adoptable critters waiting for their forever family. What could be more enjoyable than playing with a pair of tiny kittens for days on end in the comfort of your own home?
While it’s tough to gather together in person right now, we can still come together virtually for a good cause. The safest option for giving back is, of course, volunteering from your computer or phone. Have a specific talent or skill like graphic design, app development or grant writing? Offer your services to your favorite local organization, and they can tell you what they need the most.
Want to get more creative? Fundraise through your social networks for a cause that you are passionate about. Want to make it a party? Organize a knit drive over Zoom to make hats or scarves for a nearby shelter. For the sewing-proficient, masks might also be in need locally.
Take advantage of the great outdoors
Fresh air and social distancing go well together. Gardening, carpentry, painting, and landscaping are some of the tasks that could be useful to any number of organizations. These types of activities help us engage with our local communities safely, which is especially important during these isolating times.
Want to be on the move while staying socially distant? Driving can be a great way to give back to your community without working in close quarters with others. Organizations like Meals on Wheels depend on individuals to deliver food to those in need. Alternatively, you could offer to grocery shop for an elderly neighbor. When in doubt, ask a local organization how you and your vehicle can help.
If you are going to be interacting with other people when you volunteer, remember to bring your mask, a small bottle of sanitizer, and gloves, if necessary, to keep yourself and others safe while also following the organization’s specific guidelines. If you feel sick, make sure to stay home.
Support the causes that matter to you
Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed by other areas in my life, such as my career or a family crisis, and finding time to volunteer falls off my priority list. When that happens, I think about other ways I can give back.
When the lockdown hit and I wasn’t able to volunteer in-person, I started brainstorming ways to give back monetarily. I typically choose three organizations to research and donate to, and then set up automatic deposits on a monthly basis when I am financially able. I like supporting a mix of national organizations, like the ACLU or Doctors Without Borders, plus local nonprofits like a food pantry. Another option is to target organizations that are helping to combat COVID-19.
Short on change? Take a look around your house for items to donate. Food banks could certainly use the help, and as cold weather approaches in many parts of the country, extra hats, jackets, scarves, and mittens will be put to good use by many local organizations. Toys and books are particularly appreciated as the holiday season approaches. If possible, call ahead to your local food bank or organization and see what items are needed most.
Finding your match
Now that you’re brimming with ideas, it’s time to find organizations that suit your needs and interests. Performing a simple Google search, using sites like VolunteerMatch, or checking out community listings and Facebook groups will help you identify both local and national organizations where you can help out.