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COVID-19

Charities, nonprofits alter pandemic volunteer operations

Meghan McCarty Carino Jan 18, 2021
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Food delivery, online tutoring and virtual wellness checks are among the types of volunteer work prevalent during the pandemic. Drew Angerer/Getty Images
COVID-19

Charities, nonprofits alter pandemic volunteer operations

Meghan McCarty Carino Jan 18, 2021
Heard on:
Food delivery, online tutoring and virtual wellness checks are among the types of volunteer work prevalent during the pandemic. Drew Angerer/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service, a day for Americans to volunteer to help improve their community. In the middle of an unprecedented health and economic crisis, there are plenty of people in need of that help. But the pandemic has complicated how charities and nonprofits operate.

Normally, Union Station Homeless Services in Pasadena, California, would be gathering a small army of volunteers on MLK Day to prepare food or tutor kids in temporary housing. But that’s not possible this year, said operations director Amanda Green.

“We now have volunteers who are ordering from local restaurants and delivering those dinners instead of serving it themselves and making it,” Green said. “We have an online tutoring program.”

Even volunteer work has gone remote.

“Many, many, many organizations are now engaging volunteers to do wellness checks with seniors living at home in isolated situations,” said Beth Steinhorn, a volunteer strategy consultant.

That approach has made it easier for people to join in. A report from the nonprofit Points of Light shows a surge in volunteer interest.

“The pandemic really touched Americans hearts and desire to roll up our sleeves,” Steinhorn said.

Even if those sleeves are resting on keyboards as folks sit at their computers.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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