Every day we learn about more loss of life, income, productivity and the devasting toll COVID-19 is taking on the mental and physical health of frontline workers, seniors, and other vulnerable groups.
Another impact of social distancing and safer-at-home guidance is their effect on volunteer programs that engage seniors. So many older adults and retirees who provide critical support to countless organizations, from literacy programs to food banks and more, are unable or choose not to volunteer. Pre-COVID-19, an army of older adult volunteers – through Senior Corps programs such as RSVP and others -- gave of their time to make sure community needs were met.
So, is volunteering among older adults another casualty of COVID-19?
No. While many older adults can’t volunteer right now, there are still opportunities where seniors are meeting critical needs and where others are stepping in to support seniors who need help year-round. For example:
Otsego County United Way RSVP volunteers in Gaylord, MI serve more than 30,000 hours annually and show no sign of letting up. Many are still volunteering in the food pantry, providing transportation for cancer patients, sewing masks, making homemade cards, and writing several hundred thank you notes to essential workers.
United Way of Greater Austin recruits “Senior Buddy” volunteers and provides other support for Senior Access, an organization that helps insure seniors have access to essential services. COVID-19 increased the need for Senior Buddy volunteers, who call Senior Access clients to check in on them and alert the nonprofit to any needs. One client of the program, aged 71, signed on to be a Senior Buddy, as did a 77-year old regular volunteer who did not want to put clients or herself at risk by continuing to drive them to appointments.
Since March 15, the RSVP program funded by United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey has recruited, screened and enrolled 460 new volunteers (average age of 40) to help with COVID-19 response needs by delivering food and medications to seniors. RSVP-school based programs have gone online, with older volunteers tutoring their students virtually. RSVP also has organized volunteers to make and donate masks.
United Way of Northeast Florida has primarily engaged volunteers in food distribution since COVID-19, but now is also calling for volunteers to assemble “Senior Care Bags” which seniors may find useful to make their daily life easier. Volunteers organize drives to collect items such as toiletries, jar openers, non-slip socks, sugar-free candy, tea, and other items. Completed care packages are donated to local nursing homes.
Each May in the U.S. we celebrate Older Americans Month and the contributions of time, talent and experience that older adults make to our communities. Now is the time for all of us who can, to give back to older adults, by volunteering either in our own home or safely in our communities. Search for opportunities here, or contact your local United Way to get involved.