When if first became apparent at the end of last week that we were entering a quarantine situation, I recognized that there would be needs among the more vulnerable members of our community. As the president elect of the Groton Rotary Club, an organization that lives by the motto of Service Above Self, I knew that it was time to prepare.
A number of people have asked me to summarize what I did so they could emulate it in their own communities, so what follows is a game plan for organizing to serve your community.
1. Find Out What Everyone Else Is Doing
While it’s not a huge problem for there to be two volunteer lists, it is more efficient to at least know what else is being done so you’re not totally duplicating efforts.
My first call was to our town manager. He told me that this effort would be greatly appreciated. Most municipal governments, especially here in Connecticut, have been dealing with progressively less state aid and increasing health care costs. This has forced them to cut out anything not strictly necessary, which would include any kind of staff or capacity to deal with an unusual situation like this.
Your town is likely well prepared to deal with keeping order and keeping the lights on, but getting food to people who need it, checking on the elderly, and all the rest, that falls to groups like Rotary, Lions, and other kind hearted volunteers.
If there are other service organizations in your community, reach out to them as well. You may be able to collaborate.
2. Organize Volunteers and Resources
The COVID 19 situation is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. That means that the needs will be like nothing we’ve ever seen before. We can guess at a few because they are existing needs that will simply be made worse by social distancing and business closures: food insecure people will become more food insecure, elders who are lonely will become lonelier, etc. Beyond that, who knows what the needs may be.
Thus, my first step was to solicit volunteers. I created a Google Form. Google Forms are free and easy to use, and can output to a Google Sheet, which is Google Drive’s version of Excel.
On the form, in addition to basic contact info, I asked what people would be willing to do, if they had a car, and what towns they were interested in serving in. That last one I added later when I realized that other surrounding towns weren’t doing the same thing and I wanted our list to be usable not just for Groton but for the area.
I also started coordinating with my own Rotary Club to see what resources we might have financially to bring to bear on the situation, if we could do online fundraising, etc.
3. Offer Resources to Identify Needs
Once resources are gathered and you know what you have to offer, you can start spreading the word that you have resources to offer. I reached out directly to Groton Human Services, which runs the Groton Food Locker, in our town. I also put out on Facebook and in the local newspaper that we were available to help.
We created a second form for anyone who has needs assistance. Requests will start as a trickle, but may become a flood, and having a form to channel information through is vital to keeping track and not letting people slip through the cracks.
One challenge you may run into here is getting people and even organizations to as for help. One particular food distribution site had said they would welcome our help delivering food for them. A few days later, they mentioned that they didn’t have enough donations to be able to stock the effort, not realizing that I could help them solicit donations.
Just saying “we’re here for anything” may not get them to identify their needs. You may need to have a more in depth conversation to really identify the needs that you are able to address.
4. Build a Team
The step I am about to undertake is building a team so this doesn’t all go through me. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. I will be building a team of people with different skills to support the project in different areas.
Even if you are a one man band, you should have at least one assistant. Why? Because we’re dealing with an epidemic, and if COVID 19 puts you in bed for two weeks, who is going to do the work you stepped up to lead? Even in normal times, you should have a back up, but especially now.
That Brings Us Up to Now
This who thing started 5 days ago, so the story is a fairly short one. Find out what’s being done. Develop resources. Identify needs and deploy resource to needs. Build a Team. That’s pretty much it.
If you have questions or would like to share ideas, call Michael Whitehouse at 413-218-7946 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.