How to serve while social distancing

There is so much that can and needs to be done for others right now. Think creatively and consider what you can offer.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has a long-held tradition of delivering matzah and other items for Passover. Credit: Courtesy.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has a long-held tradition of delivering matzah and other items for Passover. Credit: Courtesy.
Cindy Greenberg
Cindy Greenberg

As a community, we are continuing to ask, “What can we do to support those around us?” Jewish tradition teaches the importance of people not feeling isolated, especially during times of illness. In the Talmud (Berachot 5b), we hear a beautiful story of a time when Rabbi Yochanon was suffering from an illness and was visited by a colleague, who reached out his hand in support, and with that gesture, Rabbi Yochanon recovered. This story teaches us that healing cannot and should not be an isolated experience.

With this story as inspiration, in the last week our organization has shifted our focus to consider how we can mobilize Jews and our neighbors to take action to repair the world under our new, mostly virtual, circumstances. In each of our nine communities, we have been in close contact with our service partners and are sharing some of the ways that you can, from your home, support the most vulnerable in our society while making time to care for yourself.

This new service takes on different shapes and forms and, as always, is only effective if it addresses the needs of local communities. In Atlanta, we just started virtual tutoring with an education partner. In Pittsburgh, we are working with our young families to send letters and art to residents at a Jewish senior living home. In Detroit, we have a number of service activities you can do from home. We are mobilizing individuals in Harlem and Brooklyn, N.Y., to donate to local nonprofits serving clients who need emergency food services. And we delivered food to our partner organization in Chicago serving clients experiencing homelessness and convened volunteers virtually for a learning conversation.

There is so much that can and needs to be done to serve others right now. Think creatively and consider what you can offer.

Here are eight ways to be of service while minimizing contact with others:

  1. Social Isolation Is a Form of Service to Others
    Social isolation is the most important form of service to others right now. Maintaining our physical distance and following the rules in place in our community protects the health and safety of everyone, particularly those most vulnerable to COVID-19.
  2. Check on Your Neighbors
    Even while practicing social isolation, we can still be there for each other. While being advised not to venture far out from our homes, now is the time to think about which people in our immediate proximity remains vulnerable. Here is a template that you can use to reach out to your neighbors. Mutual-aid initiatives are being launched in neighborhoods across the country via Facebook groups and emails lists. A wonderful example is this new initiative in New York City called Invisible Hands, which connects people with opportunities to shop and perform other tasks for their neighbors. We hope to see many more of these initiatives being developed in the coming days.
  3. Volunteer to Deliver Food
    Those who rely on food pantries and soup kitchens now have even less access to basic goods as emergency food-relief organizations are at reduced capacity or even closed. Food pantries are stepping up to do everything they can to get items delivered. But they need volunteers to deliver food. Those who are able can step up to make these deliveries to essentially serve as a lifeline to help people get what they need to survive.
  4. Donate to an Organization That Can No Longer Use Volunteers
    We’ve heard from partners who often rely on volunteers that their operations need donations to remain viable. Southwest Ecumenical Emergency Assistance Center (Atlanta), Baltimore Hunger Project (Baltimore), John’s Bread and Life (Brooklyn), The Night Ministry (Chicago), Gleaners Community Food Bank (Detroit), Food Bank for New York City (Harlem), Lotus House (Miami), Broad Street Ministry (Philadelphia) and East End Cooperative Ministry (Pittsburgh) are just some of the local organizations that provide important services—vital to many underserved populations—that need donations to continue their services and to adapt to the social distancing in effect.
  5. Share Your Skills Online
    With increased time at home, consider spending some of your time volunteering online. Volunteer to be a virtual tutor with Repair the World and MindBubble. Our partners at Points of Light compiled this resource with a number of options for virtual volunteering, as has UJA-Federation of New York. The website Catchafire matches volunteers with online opportunities that tap into their professional skills, and more specifically, you can get involved with nonprofits like Crisis Text Line, org and Write a Prisoner. Repair the World is developing new opportunities for virtual volunteering.
  6. Get Your Company or Organization to Offer Pro Bono Support
    Companies and organizations with expertise in communications, technology, human resources and more can donate their time to help nonprofits navigate this new and unexpected moment. Taproot Foundation offers pragmatic ways for companies to offer support.
  7. Virtual Visits With Isolated People
    Social isolation and loneliness is a major risk and concern for many at this time. Let’s combat this by reaching out to people. Everything helps—a phone call, email, text, even talking out your window or from a front porch. We can all find ways to maintain contact and be there for each other in word. A virtual visit or phone call can make a significant difference in people’s lives now. Letter-writing, card-sending or making art for residents in senior homes can be deeply impactful for those on the receiving end (and keep children busy). One suggestion could be to create art at home, and then scan and email it to the staff at a local senior residential living facility so they can print it out for the residents.
  8. Donate Blood
    With more than 4,000 blood drives having already been cancelled across the country, we are facing a critical shortage of blood. If you are healthy enough to give blood, it’s so important right now.

The work to heal during and after this global health crisis will be ongoing. We are grounded in this work by listening carefully to community needs. The list above is just the beginning of ways that you can help to serve others,. Service is not only a moral imperative at this moment; it is also a way to increase our personal resilience and to make meaning in challenging times.

Cindy Greenberg is president and CEO of Repair the World.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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