My family and I went for a hike over the weekend. We’ve hiked this trail in our town hundreds of times. People typically greet each other, pet each other’s dogs, and stop to let our children play. This time was drastically different. As we passed people, everyone’s heads were down. People stepped away. There was no eye contact or friendly words exchanged. It felt very distant.
You can sense the fear and protective barrier as if COVID-19 could be transmitted through the breath of saying hello. Social distancing is incredibly important right now as we stop the spread. However, social distancing does NOT mean emotional distancing.
At first when a pandemic arises, it’s natural for us to focus inward. To gather the facts, understand the dynamics, and protect those we feel responsible for loving. But, now we know the facts: 1) As healthy adults, we are more at risk of spreading COVID-19 than dying from it. Our actions should be focused on protecting others vs. worrying about ourselves. 2) The most vulnerable to COVID-19 are the elderly (whether they have an existing condition or not) and those who have a weakened immune system due to chronic conditions like cancer and diabetes, especially if they are currently undergoing active treatment.
Simply put, when a crisis strikes, the vulnerable are even more vulnerable.
Restaurants are closing. Organizations are on hold. Government has competing priorities. Hospitals need to be reserved for the critically ill. THIS is where the community can powerfully serve others in ways that systems cannot keep up with. Let’s Just Show Up!
To that end, a lot of us are now asking “what can I do to help?”. Where should we send donations and how can we best utilize our time to help our communities that are deeply impacted by this? The breadth and depth of this pandemic can easily make us feel helpless, but this is actually the time where we can be extremely helpful in a way that does not increase risk to ourselves or our loved ones.
Here is how:
- Community CARE Without CONTACT.
What the elderly and sick need more than anything right now are groceries dropped off at the door, medications picked up at their pharmacies, everyday supplies replenished, and help with walking pets. All of these acts of help don't require any person-to-person contact. If they are not in a position to communicate through text or phone call, you can even exchange old fashioned written notes. (Make sure to mention when you'll be back to check in again).
- Commit to Consistent Support.
This is not a one-time fix. The impact and limitations of COVID-19 will last for weeks or months. Whether you commit to a handful of individuals/families or signing up for weekly volunteering efforts to the masses, the key thing is consistency. Create a group of supporters to share the care and commit to the long haul. We typically say that even one act of support makes a huge difference, but in this case, we need the committed. We need all of us to adopt people to care for.
- Create an ianacare support team.
We created a FREE app called ianacare to support family caregivers. It makes it easier to mobilize personal social circles (friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, religious groups, parent groups) to rally around individuals/families who are caring for loved ones with chronic conditions (cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, etc.) as well as disabilities and mental illness. The app easily coordinates practical help (meals, rides, respite care, childcare, pet care, house errands) and emotional support through a private group feed.
- During this COVID-19 time, we’ve optimized our app to allow unlimited numbers of teams and supporters.
You can create a team for supporting:
- Elderly neighbors.
States are enforcing people older than 65 years old to stay home and Britain mandated that the elderly over 70 years old self-isolate for four months, even if they don’t have coronavirus symptoms. If we don’t proactively check in and provide for our elderly neighbors, they will suffer under these restrictions. The elder neighbor doesn’t even have to use the app. It’s just a way to coordinate with your fellow neighbors, so you become a support system for their prolonged needs. Otherwise, they will receive 5 meals in one day and no more for the rest of the month. Let’s coordinate to sustainably support!
- People with suppressed immune systems (cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc.).
If they catch COVID-19, they will be rushed to the crowded hospitals and be at high risk of needing critical interventions. The people caring for them can’t be exposed either. So, it is crucial for people to create a team to coordinate running all of their outside errands and coordinate no-contact drop offs.
- Confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Love > Fear. If you know someone (even if it’s a friend of a friend) who has COVID-19, lean into helping them because the majority of people will avoid them out of fear. They are scared for their lives and the lives of their own loved ones, they are highly limited to any activity, and they will experience a heightened sense of feeling like a burden if they ask for help. Show them compassion during a time they need it most. Start a team and get them what they need to get through this difficult time.
- Quarantined individuals and/or families due to presumptive symptoms.
They are stuck. They need to especially stay home to avoid the contagious spread to others. To make matters more challenging, some are also managing children whose schools and daycares have been closed, and we all know how difficult that can be even in the best of times. On top of basic needs, consider dropping off activity packs, books, or Lego sets in addition to essential food items and toilet paper.
- Friends or community members who have lost their income.
Due to the halt of normal activities, there are millions of people who are now out of work with no income. We’ve talked to a lot of their employers and they are doing all they can to provide relief, but some businesses are already closing. As friends and community members, you can start a support team for those individuals/families who need support to bridge the gap. Purchase gift cards, buy them groceries, send over meals, or drop off envelopes of cash. Perhaps you can give away the money you’re saving by not commuting or eating out.
- Medical professionals who are dedicated to fight this on the frontlines.
Thousands of medical professionals are going into the fire every day to continue treating patients at risk to their own health. Many medical staff are quarantining themselves from their families and living in hotels or temporary housing to protect their families from catching COVID-19. These families need us. Offer to watch their kids, drop off anything and everything they need, and please thank them profusely.
This COVID-19 pandemic has opened our eyes to the broadened definition of caregiving. We named our company ianacare (IANA = I Am Not Alone) because family caregiving can be incredibly isolating. However, ianacare serves anyone who needs an extra boost of community support. It’s free and it’ll always be free to individuals. It’s the base layer of support powered by your own personal social circles to mobilize and show up. There may not always be an immediate solution, cure, or fix, but we can ensure that people are not alone on their journey.
Let’s get specific about providing support during the current COVID-19 here: (these categories can be coordinated via our app today)
Tips for providing meals:
- Choose packaged foods to avoid any potential transfer from your home kitchen prep
- Get fresh fruits and vegetables that can be peeled
- Find high protein options to curb hunger
- If you do cook, wear plastic prep gloves and make something that can be reheated easily. There is a reason lasagna is the #1 shared meal, but try dropping off a big container of chicken soup.
Tips for grocery shopping & pharmacy medication pickup:
- Get a list every Sunday as part of everyone’s routine. Drop it off, knock on the door, and leave.
- No list? Just drop off the basics (milk, eggs, bread, etc.) or bring prepared meals.
- Pick up medication on a regular schedule.
- Download a payment app like Venmo or Cash, so you can easily request and receive money.
- Don’t forget to add a little treat or surprise. An unexpected bar of chocolate, tub of ice cream, or bottle of wine preserves the friendly relationship.
Tips for providing rides:
- Volunteers in Wuhan were driving medical workers to/from hospitals. They sanitized all parts of their car, wore gloves and masks, etc.
- People still need rides to their doctor appointments. Uber/Lyft are too risky based on the number of people touching the same surfaces. We can highly sanitize all parts of the car to still give someone in our community a ride.
- Use gloves, hand sanitizer, and wipes to make your car a safe ride.
Tips for providing financial relief:
- Purchase gift cards for groceries, online shopping, gas, etc. right through the ianacare app.
- Create an Amazon Wishlist that is connected to the ianacare app, so all supporters can help purchase necessary items that get sent right to the care recipient’s house. Just make sure to check the shipping dates as many things are taking longer to be delivered than usual.
Tips for providing an emotional connection:
- Comment or “hug” their post on the ianacare private update feed. That virtual hug or comment makes a tangible difference when people are isolated.
- Schedule virtual visits to connect or share a meal together.
- Start a group (online) game of Words with Friends. We hear from seniors that it keeps them connected in a positive and fun way!
You can also coordinate visits, childcare, pet care, and any other personalized tasks through the ianacare app. Some may be limited due to social distancing, but if we all think of creative ways to address the intent of that help request we can provide the support that people need as we move through this together.
During these unprecedented times, the greatest acts of love will come from individual efforts. We cannot wait for strategic direction from officials. Only we can see what we see on a daily basis. Only we can provide immediate relief in ways that it would take organizations months to coordinate.
We may not have a playbook for a pandemic, but we do have a playbook for care. Let’s go!