I’ve noticed an interesting trend in my Facebook feed over the past few weeks. When COVID-19 was first declared a pandemic, people seemed super psyched to stay home. They posted beautiful things about how people around the world were finding ways to stay connected with others during isolation. They shared their goals and dreams for what they were going to do with all of the extra time they suddenly faced—to which I said, What?! Where can I get some of that?! There was a general consensus of solidarity: “Let’s do this for our neighbors and friends and healthcare workers! Woo!”
Then, as cabin fever took over, posts gradually shifted toward less uplifting things: restlessness, political discontent, outright anger.
But I get it: it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when so much of life seems uncertain. Our old way of life is gone—whether we want it to be or not—and it’s only reasonable to expect that we’ll have to go through the stages of grief before we can heal and move forward.
One of the best ways to feel a little more settled when life is out of control is to focus on the things you can do, like serving others. No matter how crazy the world gets, there will always be opportunities to serve. And maybe, if we refocus our efforts on helping each other, we can strengthen relationships and rekindle those fading feelings of community support. Here are 13 things you can do today to serve your family, your neighbors, and your community while still practicing good social distancing.
Donate to the Food Bank
Food banks nationwide are facing severe shortages, leaving people without food security right as they’ve lost their jobs and other means of support. If you have extra non-perishable items in your cupboard, contact your local food bank to ask how you can donate. Many food banks also accept financial donations, either in person or on their websites.
Unless you’ve been avoiding social media, you’ve most likely heard about the seamsters and seamstresses making face masks for hospitals that don’t have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for their nurses and doctors. If you’re interested in joining the cause, Joann Fabrics has some great resources. Some local stores are even giving away supplies in their effort to reach 100,000,000 masks, but they recommend you call ahead to verify that your local store is participating. If you live in Utah, you can also participate in #ProjectProtect, another mask making program that provides supplies for volunteers.
Put Your 3D Printer to Work
If you’re lucky enough to have a 3D printer, first of all, I’m jealous. And second, you can also help with the efforts to provide PPE for healthcare workers by making face shield components.
Days for Girls
Periods are one thing that hasn’t been put on hold by this global pandemic, and in many parts of the world, a girl’s monthly cycle puts her at a serious disadvantage when it comes to education and career opportunities. Days For Girls is an organization that provides reusable period care kits to girls in need, and they rely on volunteers to make and distribute these kits. If you’d like to get involved, find—or start!—a local chapter here.
Who doesn’t love to get a letter in the mail? Now is a great time to write a letter to a friend, grandparent, soldier, missionary, or even the neighbor you don’t get to see anymore. Want to get a little more creative with your letters? Check out my Snail Mail board on Pinterest for lots of fun ideas!
Host a Virtual Game Night
Suddenly finding ourselves cut off from the social groups we rely on for love and support has left many people feeling isolated. We can text or call friends to keep in touch, but outside of our regular circle, there may be some who are feeling extra lonely. The quiet people at the fringes who seem to go unnoticed at the best of times may be struggling more than ever. Hosting a virtual game night can be a great way to connect with others and help them feel noticed and included. While there are platforms that will let you play virtual board games with friends, there are also plenty of games that you can play with little to no set up, like Scattergories, Pictionary, Charades, or Hangman.
Check on your elderly neighbors
During this pandemic, I’ve heard the most heartbreaking stories about people with dementia who don’t understand why they’ve been “abandoned”, grandparents who miss their grandchildren, and senior citizens who are too afraid to go to the store to get essentials. If you have living grandparents or elderly neighbors, reaching out to them now could literally save their lives. Give them a call, offer to go get their groceries for them, or stop by for a game of tic tac toe with masking tape or washable window markers. I’ve even heard of assisted living facilities inviting local children to draw pictures and make signs that can be posted on the outside of windows to provide a little cheer for the residents.
A few weeks ago, the Red Cross announced that they were dangerously low on blood supplies. Thanks to an outpouring of support, they have been able to meet immediate patient needs, but they’re asking the public to keep existing appointments or make new ones to ensure that the critical blood supply is maintained throughout the pandemic and beyond. The US Surgeon General has said, ““You can still go out and give blood. We’re worried about potential blood shortages in the future. Social distancing does not have to mean social disengagement.” You can find a blood drive near you at redcrossblood.org.
Help Wildlife in Your Backyard
Invite some new friends to your place by making your back yard more wildlife friendly. Hang a bird feeder or bird houses. Plant native flowers to help pollinators. Put out a bee watering station or build a bug hotel. There are lots of things you can do to help your local fauna, and they’ll repay you by pollinating your garden, keeping your yard pest free, or providing hours of entertainment. My favorite Instagram account, @thedailyjames, was started by a couple who put up a bird feeder and soon found themselves befriended by a pair of ravens, a family of ground squirrels, several turkey vultures, and various other creatures. (Seriously, you should check them out. They’re so cool!)
Family History Indexing
Genealogists around the world rely on publicly accessible records to connect families to their past. Thanks to the magic of technology, more and more of these records become available every day, but usually in the form of scans that can’t be searched by computers. Enter the army of family history indexers, who volunteer their time to deciphering these documents and making them available to the public. If you’d like to volunteer as an indexer, visit familysearch,org. The process is super simple, and all you need is a computer with internet connection and some basic training (available on their website).
Read For LibriVox
Reading has always been a cheap way to escape for a little while, and that is especially true while so many people are stuck at home. Librivox is a non-profit organization that turns books in the public domain into free audio books. You can volunteer as a reader and record yourself reading a chapter at a time—or even a whole book!
Support small businesses
Thanks to mandated closures and a struggling economy, small businesses have been hit particularly hard during the pandemic. Many of them have found ingenious ways to stay in business even while their physical locations are shuttered. You can support your favorite small businesses (and improve their chances of reopening when restrictions are lifted) by making a purchase through their website, buying a gift certificate, or ordering dinner to go. If you have also been hit by the economic setback, you can still help by leaving positive reviews on Google, Facebook, Yelp, and other review sites.
Fast and Pray
At the beginning of April, President Russell M. Nelson invited people of all faiths to gather in a day of prayer and fasting for relief from COVID-19. It was inspiring to see so many people around the world from all faith cultures and walks of life join us in appealing to the powers above for control of the pandemic, protection for healthcare workers, improved economies, and a normalization of life. Critics may look at the ongoing pandemic and say that our prayers were fruitless, but such claims are false. The number of new daily cases has leveled off compared to the previous two months. PPE manufacturers and everyday citizens have stepped up to provide healthcare workers with vital equipment. Families are deciding what their new normal is going to look like and setting goals for a better future. Sometimes, the way that God answers our prayers is by inspiring change in our own hearts and action in our own communities.
And that worldwide fast should not be the only prayer we offer in solidarity. We can continue to pray for our communities and our leaders. We can pray for our friends, families, and neighbors. We can fast and pray for opportunities to serve and the courage to act when those opportunities present themselves. I truly believe that as we gather together in faith, love, and compassion, we will see miracles every day.
If you’re looking for other opportunities to serve, justserve.org is updated regularly with new ideas.
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Image credits: Sewing Masks by VOJTa Herout/Adobe Stock. Tin cans by fotofabrika/Adobe Stock. Writing a Letter by nataliaderiabina/Adobe Stock. Young woman praying by Pixel-Shot/Adobe Stock.