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Charities, nonprofits alter pandemic volunteer operations

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After shopping for groceries, a volunteer provides a no-contact delivery for seniors at a residential complex on April 17, 2020 in North Bethesda, Maryland.

Food delivery, online tutoring and virtual wellness checks are among the types of volunteer work prevalent during the pandemic. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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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.

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