Volunteering during COVID-19: a how-to guide
As public health measures grow, so does the call for volunteers. Volunteering is a great opportunity to stay connected, give back, and feel like you can make a difference during a public health crisis.
Should you volunteer from home or in the community?
While you might feel compelled to volunteer your time, it’s crucial for everyone to follow public health recommendations and help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Complete the Manitoba COVID-19 Screening Tool to ensure you can take part in community-based volunteer activities. If you have any symptoms of COVID-19, or are feeling unwell, you should stay home until you are fully recovered.
Other important factors to consider before engaging in community-based volunteering:
- Are you part of a group that may be more vulnerable to COVID-19? Vulnerable populations include people of all ages with underlying medical conditions, including asthma, people of all ages with compromised immune systems, and people aged 60 and over.
- Are you living with or taking care of anyone who belongs to a vulnerable group? If you are in contact with someone who is at high risk for severe illness, you should self-isolate to reduce their chances of contracting COVID-19. If you will be volunteering in the community, it will be crucial for you to follow all health and safety protocols put in place by the community groups and organizations, as well as the public health recommendations. These include physical distancing, handwashing, and sanitizing surfaces.
Keeping yourself and everyone around you as safe as possible is the number one priority!
What makes a good volunteer?
For some tips on how to volunteer during COVID-19, we reached out to Career Services and Community Engaged Learning. These two departments offer student services that help you build the knowledge and skills for planning your career and for working in good ways with the wider community.
When it comes to volunteering and community work, Community Engaged Learning emphasized the importance of finding out what local groups or community organizations need, and directing your time, energy and resources towards those goals.
“Great volunteers know what skills and resources they can contribute and help out wherever they’re needed,” said Anny Chen, who is the Lead Coordinator in Community Engaged Learning. “While you might have a great idea for a volunteer project, the best thing you can do is listen to the people and agencies who are on the frontlines and support their work. That way, you know that your volunteer work will be helpful and appreciated.”
Anny also raised the importance of being ready to work with communities that often face discrimination and stigma.
“Some communities are much more affected by COVID-19, including older adults, people with disabilities, low-income individuals and families, and people who are unhoused,” said Anny. “It’s important to think about how you can minimize the stigma people face when they try to access resources. You can do this by challenging your unconscious biases about marginalized communities and social services before and throughout your volunteering.”
Trevor Lehmann, Career Consultant in Career Services, provided some guidance when it comes to knowing what you can contribute and setting some goals for your volunteering.
“With volunteering, you have the opportunity to both play to your strengths by sharing your current skills and resources as well as gain new skills,” said Trevor. “Volunteering also allows you to explore different sectors and occupations, so consider the areas of work that you would like to gain experience in and be open to connecting with new people. One day, they might become your boss, colleague, or reference.”
Here are five simple questions to help you get ready to volunteer:
- What skills and experience do you have?
- What do you hope to get out of volunteering?
- What kind of volunteering are you open to doing?
- Where in the city and what time of the day are you willing to volunteer? For example, are you more comfortable volunteering during the day or traveling to the downtown area?
- What kind of support will you need in order to be a good volunteer? Remember to think about your unconscious biases and how you can challenge them.
What kind of volunteering would be helpful?
There are lots of ways to volunteer during COVID-19. You can help out family and friends, browse opportunities on Career Connect, volunteer with a grassroots group or charitable organization, such as the Canadian Red Cross, or even support community efforts from home.
Fundraisers & Supply Drives
Many community organizations are trying their best to meet community needs, but they’re facing a shortage of donations as more people stay home. You can help by organizing an online fundraiser for a community organization.
It’s best to get in touch with the organization through social media or by email to find out what they need, but here are some of the donations being requested.
- Cash and gift card donations (widely accepted)
- Gently used smart phones, tablets, and laptops (WE24, Resource Assistance for Youth, other youth-serving organizations, and nursing homes)
- Recreation supplies, such as puzzles, colouring books and pencils, VHS tapes, puzzle books, and art supplies (Sunshine House)
- Gently used bedroom furniture, including twin beds (Main Street Project)
- Canned meat and beans, canned fruit and vegetables, pasta and tomato sauce, rice, peanut butter and jam, and other non-perishable foods (Winnipeg Harvest and community food banks)
- Sandwich fillings and supplies, such as canned tuna or chicken, eggs, mayonnaise, mustard, and sandwich bags (Agape Table)
- Milk, meat, frozen fruit, tomatoes, plantains, yams, and other fresh ingredients (Sunshine House, Food for All)
- Diapers and baby formula (Villa Rosa)
- Toilet paper, bleach, and other cleaning supplies (Sunshine House, 1JustCity)
- Homemade masks, hand sanitizer, and disposable gloves (widely accepted)
- Soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothbrushes, and toothpaste (resource centres)
- Sanitary pads and tampons (women’s resource centres)
Remote Counselling & Wellness Checks
There has been increased isolation, stress, and anxiety during COVID-19, which means that people need extra support for their mental health and wellbeing. Make a point of checking in with friends and family on a regular basis, or volunteer with a community organization, such as:
- Kids Help Phone needs crisis responders to help young people from their own home. There is expedited training available. For more information, visit http://wfp.to/3uo.
- Caregiving with Confidence needs volunteers to provide telephone support to clients. They provide encouragement, information, and support to people who are unable to attend programs. For more information, call 204-452-9491 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
While recent announcements about emergency benefits and resources are appreciated, there is a lot of room for improvement and many communities are still waiting to hear how their needs will be addressed.
Use your reading and critical thinking skills to review government policies and new announcements and identify gaps in the responses from various levels of government. Share your findings with your Mayor and City Councillor, Premier and Member of the Legislative Assembly, and Prime Minister and Member of Parliament.
You can take it one step further and get involved with local advocacy groups, such as Make Poverty History Manitoba, Right to Housing Coalition, or Emergency Housing Justice. It can be really empowering to work with others to achieve the structural changes that you want to see.
Volunteering from home
Many community organizations are short-staffed, so it’s a great time to offer your skills and resources. Get in touch with community organizations, likely with their volunteer coordinators, and share the skills and resources you would like to contribute.
Here are some recent examples of volunteers sharing their skills and resources:
- Preparing hot meals for community members
- Gathering supportive messages from youth, Elders, and other community leaders
- Filming video tutorials on youth-friendly topics
- Writing blogs and drafting documents
- Thanking donors
- Designing posters
- Managing social media engagement
- Bookkeeping and data entry
- Doing research and creating educational resources
1JustCity is looking for volunteers who want to contribute their skills, whatever they may be. Email email@example.com to get started.
Volunteering in the community
If you can drive and have access to a car, volunteers are needed to pick up and deliver groceries, meals, and care packages to people who are self-isolating or who have difficulty leaving their home. You can help out friends and family that may be part of vulnerable groups, join one of the new mutual aid or caremongering groups on social media, or volunteer with a community organization, such as:
- Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre is seeking drivers to make deliveries to seniors and families from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
- Meals on Wheels is seeking volunteers to deliver meals to vulnerable people in the Winnipeg area. For more information, call 204-956-7711, email email@example.com or go to mealswinnipeg.com.
- Mutual Aid Society Winnipeg has a new hot meal program called Serve the People. They are looking for volunteers to deliver meals. Sign up here on the online form.
A few frontline service organizations remain open and need onsite volunteers to help with food programming. You can find more opportunities at Volunteer Manitoba, but here are three community organizations that could use some volunteers:
- Agape Table is seeking volunteers to help prepare and serve breakfast and run the food bank. People from all walks of life are welcome to provide nourishment to guests. For more information, call 204-786-2370 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Oak Table is seeking volunteers to help with its lunch service, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday to Thursday. For more information, email email@example.com.
- Winnipeg Harvest is seeking volunteers to help sort donations in its warehouse. For more information, call 204-982-3663 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.