How can you help in the pandemic? Volunteer Odyssey breaks it down. (Quick Read)

The people of Memphis are collectively generous. Memphians help family members and neighbors in need. Memphians donate and volunteer. It's a poor city. They may not have much to give, but they offer it how and when they can. 

Now, Memphians are giving less.

It's not about desire to help. The social distancing and financial instability of the COVID-19 pandemic left many people unsure how to safely help and unable to give in the ways they once could. Even gathering donations at home like food and clothing is discouraged for safety. 

But many Memphian are still helping out, and there are plenty of easy and inexpensive ways for more Memphians to join them. 

Dr. Sarah Petschonek is founder & CEO of the Memphis-based nonprofit Volunteer Odyssey. The organization is a hub for local support that pairs people will ideal volunteer experiences.

“Most people say that they want to help, but they don’t know where to start and that’s exactly what Volunteer Odyssey is here for," she said. 

During the pandemic, they're focusing efforts on virtual and remote volunteering, in-person opportunities deemed essential, and creative ways to share messages of hope.

“Memphis needs volunteers now more than ever. How they volunteer and what that looks like is shifting, but we still need people to volunteer," she said.

Mid-Southerners can click here for Volunteer Odyssey's list of local organizations, activities, and initiatives with the biggest need for support.

The organization has seen a huge spike in demand for aid, especially for food support, but a drop in people showing up in person for things like boxing and distributing food. 

But Petschonek said they've also seen a significant spike in informal and remote volunteerism. This is the type of volunteering that's doable for nearly everyone.

Memphians are checking on their neighbors more often by phone and front yard visits. They're grocery shopping for their high-risk family members and neighbors. They're sending postcards and virtual thank you notes to first responders. They're picking up trash on walks through the neighborhood. They're making masks and organizing their efforts with social media groups. 

One of the biggest factors in the reduction in in-person volunteering is age. A significant portion of the those volunteers are retirees. Seniors are at extremely high-risk for complications and death from COVID-19 and are strongly encouraged to stay home as much as possible. 

Petschonek said one of the best ways Memphians can support relief efforts is to call a favorite organization and ask how to help despite any personal limitations.

“If you have a nonprofit that you love and care about, ask them for their immediate need. They’ll know better than anyone else," she said.

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Find more resources and ways to help in English and Spanish in our Memphis Area COVID-19 Resource Guide.

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Read more articles by Cole Bradley.

Cole Bradley is a native Memphian and graduate of the University of Memphis. Cole's worked locally as a researcher and community engagement strategist and began contributing to High Ground in Jan 2017. 
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