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As events, school and other pieces of daily life in Salem grind to a halt, more people – healthy and sick – are staying home to avoid spreading illness to others.
That trend has left some nonprofit organizations who rely on regular volunteers in a tight spot.
Many volunteers are senior or retirees who now are increasingly avoiding events in public because they’re at highest risk for serious cases of COVID-19. Gov. Kate Brown has urged those over 60 to avoid groups of more than 10.
Meanwhile, organizations that provide food, shelter or other needed services to Salem’s most vulnerable residents are being called to do more with less help.
“That is the question of the day – if our normal volunteer force is understandably nervous about going out in public or in large gatherings … then who’s going to fill in?” said Kelly Carslisle, executive director of the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation, which runs after school programs at many local schools.
Schools are closed for the next two weeks and many programs for children are canceled. Boys & Girls Club of Salem has suspended after school programs and youth sports until April 1, executive director Sue Bloom said.
The education foundation is canceling after school programs too, Carlisle said, but will likely be called on to help as the Salem-Keizer School District makes plans for serving meals to kids in need.
Meals on Wheels, which relies on volunteer drivers to take food to 500 homebound seniors each weekday in the Salem area, has had three or four drivers dropping from regular shifts, program manager Mel Fuller said.
She expects that trend to continue. Most of the organization’s volunteer force is retired, she said.
Other organizations say they’re facing similar challenges. And with all public schools in Oregon closing starting Monday, the need for childcare, food delivery and other services will only increase.
Salem Reporter reached out to major Salem-area nonprofit organizations and others who are organizing to meet community needs. Below are some ways those who are healthy and able to leave the house can help, and ways those who need help can find it.
Volunteer to keep people fed and sheltered
Meals on Wheels needs a larger pool of drivers. Volunteering means picking up meals from the Center 50+ in northeast Salem and delivering them along a route one day a week, from about 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Those interested can call Meals on Wheels at 503-364-2856.
Marion Polk Food Share needs healthy volunteers to sort and pack food as some regular volunteer groups cancel. Volunteers work at the Volunteer Action Center, 1660 Salem Industrial Drive NE. Learn more or sign up on the Food Share website.
United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley is seeking volunteers to drop off food and goods for seniors normally served by the Villages United program who are opting to stay at home. Those interested can contact Vicki Marazzani at [email protected].
Safe Sleep, a shelter for homeless women, has seen fewer volunteers in recent days during middle-of-the-night shifts from 9 p.m. to midnight and midnight to 4 a.m. Volunteers must be women and can sign up online to receive training during their first shift.
The Salem-Keizer Education Foundation will need volunteers to distribute food and related activities as local schools plan for feeding kids who normally rely on school meals. Those interested can contact volunteer coordinator Valerie Steele at [email protected].
Help people with errands and chores directly
Kevin Chambers, chair of the West Salem Neighborhood Association, is working to connect people able to go shopping, do chores or otherwise help neighbors who can’t or shouldn’t be out.
“If I can take a Friday afternoon or Friday evening and go grocery shopping for people then I’ll do it,” he said.
He’s hoping to coordinate a citywide effort and get other neighborhood organizations involved, and said people can contact him regardless of where in Salem they live. His goal is to establish a database so willing helpers can be matched with those who need help.
To offer or request help, email Chambers at [email protected] or call or text him at (503) 586 – 8188.
Prohibitions on large gatherings around the U.S. have also resulted in blood drives being canceled, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said. Illness and fears of illness may also keep people from donating. The FDA is asking Americans who can to donate blood, platelets or plasma to keep the nation’s blood supply available for those who need it.
There’s no medical evidence of respiratory viruses being transmitted through blood, according to the FDA, and blood centers already prohibit donations from people who are feeling ill or have fevers at the time of donation.
Many blood centers, including the Red Cross in Salem, have added more screening questions, asking those who have had exposure to a COVID-19 case to defer donation.
Those feeling healthy and who want to donate can sign up on the Salem Red Cross website.
Small grants for nonprofit organizations
United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley is offering grants of up to $300 for other nonprofit organizations for needs related to COVID-19 in Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties, said Elizabeth Schrader, chief development officer.
Those needs could include cleaning and sanitizing supplies or equipment to allow remote work or events for organizations shutting down in-person operations.
There’s a total of $9,000 available, and United Way will make grants until the fund is exhausted, Schrader said. So far, about 20 organizations have applied.
Interested organizations can contact Schrader at [email protected] or (503) 363-1651.
Major fundraising lunches and events for several Salem-area nonprofits are moving to an all-video or livestream approach.
Family Building Blocks will not hold an in-person happy hour that was scheduled for March 19, communications director Meaghan Levy said. Instead, they’ll livestream the event on Facebook.
The Salem-Keizer Coalition for Equality is also moving to a video fundraiser instead of a luncheon that was scheduled for April 23, said executive director Annalivia Palazzo-Angulo.
Buy gift cards for local businesses
The Salem Area Chamber of Commerce is asking citizens to buy gift cards or certificates at their favorite small businesses to keep those who run on thin margins afloat as fewer people shop.
The Chamber posted the request on Facebook Thursday.
Contact reporter Rachel Alexander at [email protected] or 503-575-1241.
Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.