As much as I would love to write blog posts about my recent trip to Mexico City or any other number of fun topics, there’s pretty much one thing on my mind these days: the COVID-19 pandemic. I wrote about my experiences thus far during the pandemic here, but I wanted to focus now on what can be done on an individual-level. In times like these there are new and sometimes frightening limitations on what an individual can do. Besides the financial and emotional stress incurred by the pandemic, we are each limited in what physical actions we can take, especially with stay-at-home orders being implemented by local governments and social distancing still the gold standard of conduct. During these times it’s easy to fall prey to the idea that the locus of our life’s control is external.
As someone who is physically visiting a health clinic on a weekly basis for my job as a provider of social services, I am seeing hardship on a daily basis. The most difficult part of seeing my clients’ struggles is knowing that they are just the tip of the iceberg of the burdens that exist on people around the world. And yet, I count myself lucky to see the misfortune I see each day. This may seem a strange sentence to write, and I say it not because I enjoy seeing others struggle – to the contrary, I do not. However, it is a daily reminder to (hang with me here, I’m about to get a bit woo-woo) expand my daily gratitude and shift my focus toward what I can do to contribute to the world. Yep, I dropped some reiki-chakra-feel-your-heartspace s**t on you.
Why would I do that? Because gratitude is a grounding force in my life. It’s one that reminds me that while many things are changing, different, and scary – all rolled up into one – there are still many things in life over which I do, in fact, have control. As such, here are some of the things I do to keep myself sane and remind myself that my actions during this time do matter.
- Order take-out/delivery – My partner, B, and I are both fortunate that we are each still working and continuing to receive pay checks (at least for now!). While I did see a decline in my monthly income from my part-time gig jobs ceasing functioning due to the pandemic, I am fortunate enough to be able to survive off my full-time job in health care without too much hardship. However, many of the clients with whom I work had jobs in the restaurant business or other service sectors. Once restaurants and other non-essential businesses were shut down, most lost their livelihoods. Many restaurants in Washington, DC are still functioning on a take-out or delivery basis only, which allows them to continue to employee some of their employees, albeit a smaller number. To support these local businesses and employees, B and I have been ordering food for take-out or delivery once a week. Most restaurants are now offering free and contact-less delivery, and we’ve been sure to tip heavily on the meals to try and make up for some of the lost wages these employees are facing.
- Donate to One Fair Wage’s Emergency Coronavirus Tipped and Service Worker Support Fund or other similar funds – As I mentioned in my last blog post, the majority of the clients with whom I work have no documents to work in the United States, and therefore do not qualify for unemployment benefits.
Side note: I understand that talking about immigrants without documentation can oftentimes be a polarizing conversation, one with many misunderstandings, myths, and prejudices. To be clear, these individuals want to go back to work to be able to make money to feed themselves and their families. They are not looking for government hand-outs; they simply want to be put back to work, which is something that does not look likely for the foreseeable future.
At a loss for government services to which to socially prescribe them, I have turned to non-profit, grass-root organizations like One Fair Wage, who are organizing an assistance fund for those in the service industry who have been so hard-hit by the social distancing and business shut-down orders. The fund is amazing in that the intake form is available in both English and Spanish and does not require a social security number to qualify. However, like all similar funds functioning solely on the goodwill donations of others, submitting one’s information does not guarantee any sort of financial assistance, which is something I have had to caution my clients about. To date, I have yet to hear that any of my clients have received money from One Fair Wage, but I understand that the fund is still in its starting phase, as well as is receiving requests from all over the country. Many funds like One Fair Wage’s have been inundated with thousands of requests and are trying to distribute assistance to those most in need.
- Donate to food banks – While a large number of food banks have closed their doors due to safety concerns or lack of volunteers, there are still a small and mighty number who are operating to feed the hungry. My co-workers are amazing in that they work daily to search for all of the locations in the DMV area where free and reduced cost food is being given out. I have seen some of these food banks operating in person, each with careful new rules to protect employees, volunteers, and clients. I personally refer my clients to several food banks multiple times a day. Since these organizations are doing so much for me and my clients, I feel that it’s only fair to give back to the food banks that are suffering financially and being taxed by the number of clients asking for assistance. Many of these organizations are barely hanging on due to a scarcity of food and having lost their distribution volunteers, many of whom fall into the highest of risk groups for COVID-19. The banks are looking for either food or direct financial donations, of which I chose the latter to allow for the purchase of what is most needed. You can find your local food bank here.
- Donate blood – I recognize that I am fortunate to be able to make financial contributions during a time like this, but not all are as unaffected as I. For those who cannot afford to donate money, donating blood is a free way to give back to the community at large. The Red Cross and blood donation in general have been deemed essential services in DC and states around the country, which is vitally important since the nationwide levels of blood have been quite low due to a large number of blood drives having been cancelled. The Red Cross is taking extra measures to socially distance its donors, test donor temperatures before individuals enter the facility, and other important public health mitigation steps. I, myself, gave blood earlier this week and was impressed by the changes made by the Red Cross and its employees as opposed to pre-pandemic set-ups. You can find your nearest blood drive and eligibility requirements here.
- Assist those in higher risk groups with errands – I’m tapping out of this opportunity since I still interact with clinic patients and co-workers at my job several times weekly, which puts me at higher risk for contracting the novel coronavirus. Wary to put others at risk, I will only be interacting with co-workers, clinic patients, grocery store employees, and members of my household for the foreseeable future. However, if you’re able to socially distance all seven days of the week, picking up food and medications for those at higher risk is a wonderful way to help others in need. I know it’s a relief for me when I talk to my 60+ year-old or immunocompromised patients who tell me they have friends or family members who are helping by running basic errands. Since many risk factors are not visible or are a source of stigma, don’t be afraid to ask (at more than 6 feet or digitally) your neighbors or family members if they would like help. Many are hesitant to ask for assistance during this time; just because you don’t see a need doesn’t mean it’s not present.
- Do what you can – There’s no right or wrong answer as to how, how much, or who you can help. I think we all realize that the world in which we live has changed drastically in the past few months, and we’re now trying to find a new level of normal and sanity. Doing what you can might be calling a friend to check in and see how they’re feeling. Or maybe it’s turning off the television or your phone to allow yourself some quietude for your own mental health. Whatever it is, do it. You’ll thank yourself later.
- When in doubt, just stay home – The public thanks you.