I know, I know, I just want to laze about too! But there are people who need our help—and ways you can safely be of assistance even during a pandemic.
I fully confess summer tends to be the time of year when I’m least likely to seek out opportunities to volunteer. During these precious warm and sunny days, there are hills to be hiked, iced coffees to be drunk, fluffy novels to be consumed. I just want to relax, enjoy and soak up a little sun (protected by SPF 30+ sunscreen of course).
But as I started dreaming about the lazy summer days ahead, I found myself thinking of the people in our city who find summers harder than usual. Kids who might not have breakfast and lunch if they’re not at school (where meal access was already disrupted by COVID-19). Meals on Wheels routes that are hard to staff with summer vacations. Books that are going unsorted because volunteer regulars are out of town. The list goes on and on.
The pandemic has changed volunteering for lots of people—I have done very little this year unless it involved a socially distanced pick-up/drop-off or could be handled from my computer. But vaccinations, masks and proper social distancing mean that it’s possible to find ways to help our neighbors again. Here are a few ideas to explore.
You say you don’t know where to volunteer? These resources can match you up. As I type this, Volunteer Match tells me there are 296 places where it can match me to an organization that needs my help—and some are COVID-19 specific or virtual. And the County of Dane website will also link you to some great local groups that can use your help.
Consider some of my favorites. There are so many amazing groups in Madison, all of which could use your time and expertise. Here are just a few of groups I know of and/or have volunteered at personally.
- Madison Area Food Pantry Gardens. Can you wield a hoe or pick vegetables? You can help make sure local people in need have access to fresh veggies. This is a great pick for the entire family.
- The Literacy Network. Want to help Dane County adults gain reading, writing, communication and computer skills? Check this out.
- The Road Home. Those of us with the blessing of stable housing might find it hard to imagine not having a safe place to call home. Volunteer here and you’ll help ensure more people have access to the resources many of us take for granted.
- Maydm. Are you tech savvy? Would you love to help prepare the next generation for a successful professional life? This group provides skills-based training for the technology sector to girls and youth of color in grades 6-12.
- Madison Reading Project. Since 2014, this organization has given away almost 200,000 books to local kids! If you remember the thrill of getting a book for your very own and want to share that thrill with others, check out this group.
- St. Vincent de Paul, MOM, The River Food Pantry. These amazing local food pantries provide a wide variety of other services and support. They can always use your help in a wide variety of roles.
- Meals on Wheels. Have an hour? That’s all it takes to make sure homebound seniors have a little personal contact and a warm meal.
So, go ahead. Pick an organization. See what a difference an hour or two of your time could make for a fellow Madisonian in need. That hammock will still be waiting when you’re back.
If you, like me, are newish to the idea of viewing the New Year as a clean slate, I thought you might enjoy my four scaled back ways to approach it. Happy New Year to you!
Think small. Big goals are great, but they can also be overwhelming. Pick something small and actually do it. I’ve gotten a warm glow for days after cleaning out my junk drawer (try it and see—so rewarding every time you open that drawer). Or keep that big goal but break it into manageable chunks. “How do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a time.”
Learn something. Has there ever been a better time to learn something? YouTube is chockful of instructional videos (Don’t tell me you don’t know how to fix your leaky sink—go find a tutorial!). Harvard, MIT and many other universities are offering classes for free during COVID (check out this link). Wikipedia is a great source for research, fun facts and more (go ahead, poke around and see). And even if you can’t go into your local library, you can reserve and pick up resources at the curb.
Get outside. Yes, it’s cold out. Yes, it’s dark at 4:30 in the afternoon. And, yes, we all wish it were spring. But get out into the fresh air and I can almost guarantee you’ll feel better. And here’s a fun fact: Just being outside is good for you, you don’t even have to exercise (though certainly don’t let me discourage you from that). Check out this interesting article about “forest bathing” to learn more.
Connect. We can’t meet for a cup of coffee. Lunch dates are a thing of the past. And many of us didn’t see our loved ones face-to-face over the holidays. Frankly, it’s a bummer! But there are so many ways to connect, and it’s so important we keep doing it. Here are some not-so-original ideas that I’ve been trying in recent weeks. Family Zoom calls getting old? Play a game (lots of resources for this online) or post a weekly question (this can be an especially good way to get grandparents involved). Pick up the phone and call someone who can’t get out—even 10 minutes makes a big difference. Send something by mail. A quick note says “Hey, I’m thinking of you!” and who doesn’t love to find something besides bills in their mailbox after the holidays?
Have other great ideas for kicking off your New Year right? I’d love to hear them (see my email below).