As if Brexit, austerity, referendums and the polarizing political discourse before the first cases of COVID-19 were plain sailing waters. If anything, the drastic changes to the lifestyles of the general public as a result of the virus have simply heaped more difficulties upon those who were already struggling with everyday life. Yet adversity has always provided a response. We celebrate those key workers who endeavour tirelessly to keep the public safe and attempt to keep whatever strands of normality we have intact. But what about those who help and are not duty bound by profession? What about those volunteers who step up to help those in need with no financial gain, putting themselves in immediate danger solely to help others?
“I honestly didn’t think about it too much – I’m a reasonably healthy man in his 30’s. I take all necessary precautions to ensure I’m being as safe and responsible and to ensure the safety of the people we deliver to” says Dane, a 35-year-old Stevie Nicks enthusiast. Dane volunteers with the Neighbourhood Food Service, a coalition comprised of three local organisations; Community Central Hall, Queens Cross Housing Association and the Woodlands Community Trust; dedicated to feeding vulnerable people in need as a result of COVID. This view is also shared by Marcy, who normally works in the high pressure environment of television production. “I haven’t felt I was putting myself at risk as the team around me are all very responsible in social distancing and wearing gloves and masks when working in the hall. I then work out my own van to deliver to the households and everyone you come in contact with are very responsible and distancing.”
Dane and Marcy spend their free time undertaking a variety of roles. They load and unload the vans, clean and prepare the food, package and contain it, then deliver frozen meals and groceries to those who are either self-isolating, vulnerable or at risk from COVID-19. “You need to be a Jack of All Trades!” Dane jokes. Or at the very least possess the willingness to take on a variety of jobs to ensure that the machine functions.
One of the key drivers of volunteering during lockdown has been the ability to see the visible difference being made to those in need. By taking part, Marcy has been able to have a fair grasp surrounding the problems that vulnerable people face:
“With the pandemic there are a lot of people young and old who are uncertain and afraid to venture out. Knowing that they have this service if they need it is incredible and a relief. Many have friends and family who can help but not everyone feels that they want to burden them at this time and not all friends and family can help.”
In a time where human interaction is limited, both Marcy and Dane acknowledge the importance of friendliness; especially towards people who have seen more of the volunteers than they have of their own friends and family. “Working with the CCH has been really rewarding – especially when you get to chat with the people you’re delivering to. It’s really nice to see people benefitting from everyone’s hard work.”
By knowing that their actions have made a difference to the lives of people within their communities, Marcy and Dane have been provided the opportunity for personal growth. “I’m happier, I’m more patient and i try to be more understanding towards other people. It gives me something to look forward to in the week and gives me a sense of accomplishment.” Marcy sees an opportunity to help out even more. “I have come across a few elderly ladies who are feeling down about their hair. I wonder when things are lifted slightly if there was a travelling hairdresser service that could help with homers as I know they are still anxious about leaving to get to places.”
It’s this thought process, this consideration of the support that can be offered, that makes volunteers stand out. When the world around us is moving at a frenetic pace, we often don’t take the chance to stop and properly thank the kind people behind the scenes. Although if we did, often they would see it as a frustration as it slows them down. There’s a lot of work to be done you see. COVID hasn’t gone away overnight and people still need help. But our volunteers deserve a moment of our time to reflect on their hard work. A moment of time to consider whether it’s something you are capable of yourself. A moment of time to simply enjoy the fact that when things are difficult, there is always someone out there with a warm smile and an outstretched hand.