What a crazy time to be alive. I feel like I have said that sentence hundreds of times in the past couple of weeks. As a quick general update, while many things have changed and continue to change in response to COVID-19, there is some continuity in my day to day life as a Boston Food Justice YAV. I wake up in the morning, drive to Natick, walk into A Place To Turn, and work to distribute food to those who are food insecure in the MetroWest area. What’s different? The commute is much quicker than it has been in the past, I wash my hands with much more frequency at the food pantry than before, I wear gloves, there is less energy put into making sure the pantry is as aesthetically pleasing for clients, this is because clients are no longer coming in to the pantry to pick out their food, we have at maximum one volunteer assisting in food distributing with us five staff members as opposed to the handful of volunteers that would usually be offering helping hands. The biggest difference is that we are no longer operating as a choice pantry and instead are putting together bags of food to bring outside to clients.
We have many new clients that haven’t been to the pantry before and the phone rings off the hook! This is usually to either ask about our hours or to let us know they are outside so we can bring food to them. Volunteers also call to ask if there is anything they can do to help. We are doing our best to adapt to the novel challenges that each day brings. Outside of my work in the pantry, I spend time watering the interfaith garden and picking lettuce, going on runs to enjoy the fresh air, and on zoom conferences to have meetings with our coordinator and food justice educator as well as virtual worship with Hartford Street Presbyterian Church and the confirmation class.
There are similarities but there are also vast differences from pre-COVID-19 time. Among the unnamed differences (that I think are common for many people around the world) is the feeling of unknowing, anxiety, adriftness, and chaos (to name a few). Everyone is touched by COVID-19 whether they test positive or not. Perhaps it’s because a job is lost, someone’s feelings of isolation before social distancing are exacerbated by limiting or cutting off social interaction, a child without access to the internet or school breakfast, lunch, and perhaps dinner is unable to reap the benefits of the school system, a loved one is infected or dies due to the virus. Everyone will feel the effects of COVID-19. And I (at least) hear about all of the negative things that are happening because of it nearly every time that I listen or look to the news.
What I have found is that I personally need hopefulness and peace, and I think this is a need that is shared by many people. A moment of serenity amidst chaos. For me, I have found this in spending time in the garden or simply sitting outside for some time. One day after a particularly hectic morning in the pantry, I spent hours picking lettuce and watering the beds in the garden. The words “serenity amidst chaos” went around and around in my head the way a catchy song would as I individually separated each leaf from the stem and thought of the family that would be receiving that lettuce later that night when the pantry re-opened. I think these moments of peace are necessary for each person as they feel anxious, frustrated, or disheartened with the current state of things. Where is your peace? Is it in reading a good book, journaling, meditating, spending time in a garden as spring begins to show itself, calling a loved one? It is important to fill ourselves before we run empty trying to give everything we have. So try to find ways to fill yourself.
I also feel a need for justice, which I have seen as another common need from many people. Issues of food insecurity have been a huge issue for a long time but are even more critical now. In fact, many issues of justice have become even more critical in recent weeks. So, are you wondering what you can do? That’s great! There are many options. The first step is to identify what organization or type of organizations you would like to offer support. Would you like to help your local/national/global healthcare system, the food system, issues with immigration, folks in domestic abuse situations, assisted living facilities, small businesses, specifically organizations or businesses that are run by people of color? Then ask what it is that they need. Give an office a call to see what they are in need of: volunteers, physical donations, monetary donations, words of encouragement. If they are trying to limit exposure, they may not be looking for volunteers. If they are concerned about transmission via physical donations, they may not be looking for donations of supplies. But you will never know unless you ask. Identify the need then see if there is anything you can do to alleviate the pressure of the need.
I know that many people’s futures are uncertain and their livelihoods are up in the air which makes donating a difficult or impossible thing to do. Even then, consider writing a note to your favorite organization(s) thanking them for what they are doing, thanking (from a safe distance) the employees at your grocery store or the person delivering your mail for risking their health to try to keep the world turning. While social distancing can be isolating, we can still come together as a community that is kind, grateful, and loving.