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Community Members' Generosity During Covid

Generosity and care are part of every disaster story.

A few days ago, one year after the Covid19 pandemic arrived in the US, the CEO of GoFundMe took an unprecedented action: Based on data from their site indicating the terrible suffering of Americans, he made a plea to Congress, via an OpEd in USAToday, to pass Covid relief. Within the OpEd was a very moving sentence: “Someone makes a donation on Go Fund Me every second.”[emphasis added] This statement is a powerful reminder that while we must be clear and honest about the suffering of so many during the pandemic, we must never forget to tell the rest of the story. As Rebecca Solnit reminds us[3], the part of the story that reflects community generosity is at least equally important as the suffering caused by the disaster, though it is often overlooked.

More than Funding: Multiple Community Supports

And it’s not only GoFundMe donations that reflect community generosity. As people in the bay area learn that food banks are experiencing a huge increase in demand, individual donations are also greatly increasing. (According to its financial reports, individual donations to a local food bank nearly tripled between June 2019 and June 2020.) More importantly, countless community members are not only donating cash, but finding ways to help neighbors, by using their specific skills: Creating, supplying, and delivering meals, volunteering at food banks, as tutors to children doing schoolwork via Zoom, helping at testing and vaccination sites, using social media to help people find resources, shopping for elderly neighbors or those in poor health, and so on.

Psychologists Use Their Skills to Help

In the spirit of using our specific capacities to help, the Alameda County Psychological Association (ACPA), partnered with Crisis Support Services of Alameda County (CSS) to use our professional skills to help those working in health care settings. We know how to offer emotional and psychological support to people in crises and disasters. We see that all who work in health care settings are living through the worst of the pandemic, while putting their own health at risk: helping those who became seriously ill with life-threatening disease; coping with a major increase in people needing care, and helping dying patients and their families manage to communicate their love remotely, to name just a few trying tasks. And doing all this under very challenging circumstances, often without optimal lifesaving personal protection.

We know that, in disasters, people affected experience exhaustion, grief, moral distress, depression, and anxiety. We also know how to help: by listening with interest, respect, and empathy. By making a caring connection, we can assist a person in distress by sharing their emotional burden, thus allowing them to mobilize ways of managing that they have already developed; to reconnect with their natural support systems, and, if needed, to develop new ways of managing their acute distress. We also help connect people with additional resources when that makes sense.

While reaching out via telephone support was new to the members of ACPA, CSS has been offering telephone crisis support and suicide prevention for over half a century. They have the know-how and together we implemented this plan. Together our two organizations worked out details of how volunteer licensed mental health providers, in partnership with CSS volunteers, could offer support specifically geared towards the known and anticipated challenges faced by all who work in health care settings in California. Our support line, called “Staying Strong Against Covid 19” was up and running in May 2020. We will keep it up and running as long as needed.

The Meaning of Help: Everyone has Something to Offer

Anecdotes, media, and scholarly papers agree: Helping others is healing to the helper, as well as to the person helped. Our volunteers are grateful for the opportunity to help others, as the callers are grateful for our availability. In empathy, we recognize that we are part of a larger community of support and that we help, and also we need help, at times. This realization makes us better at offering what we have to offer, and also more modest about our offering. We are doing what we can specifically do. Our offering is part of the larger community of support. We encourage others to continue to provide for members of their community in the ways they are able.

Who Is Served by the Staying Strong Line?

The Staying Strong Against Covid 19 Support Line serves all who work in all health care settings, in any role. This includes anyone who works in health, mental health, public health, health care for unhoused people, free clinics, street medics, whether as a driver, nurse, transport assistant, clerk, social worker, physician, cafeteria worker, physical therapist, maintenance worker, electrician, HVAC, occupational therapist, or whatever your role or setting. Call us 24/7 at 510-420-3222 for brief

How Will You Serve?

Faced with the enormous nature of the covid pandemic, most of us feel helpless. We hope that those suffering most will be helped, but our first reaction is to think help must come from outside. Once we grasp that we can help, and imagine ways to help--sewing masks, teaching skills online, posting inspiring photos, calling neighbors and friends who are lonely, sending messages of appreciation to essential workers, petitioning our employers or others to help their employees, writing or calling our government representatives to encourage them to support programs that help.

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