United Way looking for stand-by COVID-19 volunteers

Published 8:30 am Saturday, April 11, 2020

SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN — With the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, one agency is looking for as many volunteers as possible to help aid as the situation progresses.

As part of an ongoing effort, United Way of Southwest Michigan is looking for on-call COVID-19 standby volunteers to possibly help with variety of tasks such as food distribution, cleaning, laundry and other needs. 

“In general, we are creating a list of standby volunteers so if or when something bigger happens, we have a go-to group of folks to help with whatever that is,” said Debbie Ramirez, the director of volunteer engagement at United Way. “We may not have a need for these people at all — we have no idea — but we want to have names, phone numbers, emails and contact information. So, if and when something big happens we can shoot that out to them and meet that need right away.”

The on-call volunteers will only be contacted if a specific need arises and then will be given more information such as dates and locations.

Ramirez said a similar on-call volunteer task force was created a year ago in anticipation of flooding in southwest Michigan. United Way was able to gather information for about 200 volunteers.

Ramirez said there are other available volunteer opportunities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, including sending Niles area senior citizens some cheer. The Greater Niles Senior Center, 1109 Bell Road, Niles, is asking people to make and send notecards to be passed along to seniors when their meals are delivered. The cards will be distributed to someone who is lonely and potentially scared, according to a post on United Way’s volunteer portal.

The American Red Cross of Southwest Michigan is also seeking volunteers for blood drives in Cass and Berrien counties, as well as disaster action team members, who provide 24-hour emergency response to local disasters — particularly house fires — ensuring that those affected have access to resources for basic necessities such as food, shelter and clothing.

Ramirez said individually, agencies that list volunteer opportunities through United Way’s website are focusing on the health and safety of people volunteering, as well as the people who they are helping, which includes potentially distributing masks and gloves.

Ramirez said those who are interested in volunteering can go online to usw.org and sign up for an account, log in and see the available opportunities in the area. Ramirez recommended people like the Volunteer United Facebook page, which is where United Way will post if an urgent call for volunteers is needed.

“The more people we can get there, the better,” she said.

Ramirez also said usw.org serves as a way for agencies to list volunteer opportunities on their own.

“A lot of agencies do that, especially with Red Cross and connections,” Ramirez aid. “We are able to be a lot more agile. If agencies haven’t used this tool before, they can certainly contact me, and we can get them started and help them through this kind of crazy time.”

Ramirez also advised potential volunteers to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines, as well as local health department guidelines before volunteering.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, United Way will continue to gather a list to prepare for the unexpected.

“It’s kind of weird because there is nothing specific, but if there is something specific, we are going to need a lot of hands on deck,” Ramirez said.