Volunteering Roundup

Every other week or so of SIP, Katie tells me about her new volunteer event. I encouraged her to share her experiences & the opportunities others can also partake in during this time, which she guest writes below for this week’s Day in the Life: Katie Shelters At Home. Thank God for her serving heart and strong immune system!

Katie’s Disclaimer: This was supposed to be Week 10’s post, but was actually written in Week 15…

With the unique hardships caused by the pandemic and the extra time on hand, I wanted to make an effort to treat Shelter-in-Place as a special opportunity to help those in need. Here is a summary of my volunteering activities since March.

Donating Blood

At the very beginning of Shelter-in-Place, I read about the severe blood shortage due to increased COVID-19 hospitalizations and many cancelled donation appointments. In the past, I’ve given blood at the American Red Cross, Australian Red Cross, and Vitalant. My friend, Kim, who works at Stanford Medical Center, encouraged me to donate blood at the Stanford Blood Center (SBC). Signing up online was very easy.

Does anyone else think it’s cool to touch the tube and feel the warmth of your blood?

Once in the center, I was quite alarmed by the close proximity of the nurses and techs (taking my temperature/blood pressure, sticking the needle in my arm, etc.). Considering that this was right after we learned what “social distancing” was and how critical it was to practice, I felt pretty uncomfortable even when someone just walked past me. The post-blood donation snacks are usually my favorite part, but I couldn’t really enjoy sitting at the table with other people for the mandatory 15 minutes. I did discover my love of Pacific Cookie Company’s (based in Santa Cruz) cookies, though.

free goodies after donating blood
Scored a ton of cookies and apples!

After the donation, SBC e-mailed me a $10 Amazon gift card, which was a nice bonus. I tried to donate blood another time in May, but that was too soon after my roommate was suspected of having COVID. I learned that there was research being conducted to investigate the blood of people who have tested positive for antibodies, possibly to determine if immunity can be transferred to others.

I only recently had my first Hobee’s experience thanks to Kim’s coupon from SBC. I’m looking forward to more blueberry coffee cake!

In July, I donated blood at SBC again. This time, they had many more precautions in place, such as wiping down all surfaces, increased distance between donors, and no snacks out on the table. While the SBC has been busy, they still have a reduced supply because they are holding much fewer mobile blood drives (down to 1-2 per week, as opposed to 1-2 per day). I encourage everyone to donate blood if they are able. You can save lives!

Healing Grove Health Center

Healing Grove is a non-profit based in San Jose whose mission is to “share the love of Jesus through health care, soul care, and culture care.” In April, the organization launched Operation Palm Leaf to address the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic among the large Spanish-speaking immigrant population in Silicon Valley. Part of the solution was creating a high-volume call center to direct people to various resources, such as health care (e.g. drive-up COVID testing), pastoral counseling, and food and education materials.

In Mexico and other Latin countries, Dia de los Ninos (Children’s Day) takes place on April 30 each year. This day is like Mother’s and Father’s day, but for kids, and is a pretty big deal, usually celebrated with festivals and lots of toys. Leading up to this day, Operation Palm Leaf, in conjunction with some local churches, held a toy and book drive. On the actual Dia de los Ninos, I met up with some friends along with other church volunteers and spread out across the Washington neighborhood in San Jose to pass out books, toys, and snacks to the kids living in the various apartment buildings. The kids genuinely looked so excited to receive new books and toys, especially since they had now been home from school for over a month without much, if any, online learning from their school district.

I admit I was a bit on edge due to the close proximity with the families and other volunteers. However, I loved learning about the mission of the organization and the local community it serves. The church plant that I am joining has since built a close partnership with Healing Grove.

A more recent initiative Operation Palm Leaf has started is the Summer Educational Campaign. We are providing 8 weeks of educational materials to children from kindergarten to 7th grade. I am assigned to 3 families in South San Jose, and every two weeks I will drop off homework packets to the kids. I’m excited to get to know these families despite the language barrier between me and many of the parents.

Virtual Baby Shower for Heritage Home

I, along with some friends from church, originally planned to host a baby shower for the expectant and new mothers at City Team’s Heritage Home over the summer. The home helps women overcome addiction, homelessness, and other hardships while they become mothers and raise their babies. While it soon became clear at the beginning of Shelter-in-Place that we would not be able to have in-person events, we suggested throwing a virtual baby shower for the mothers. The City Team team was all on board!

It was actually very straightforward to plan this virtual baby shower. We first coordinated with City Team to create an Amazon Baby Registry, which we then shared with the wider church body to fulfill. The actual shower was held on Saturday, May 9, which happened to be Mother’s Day weekend. About 10 ladies from church joined the virtual shower, where we met the four mothers and their adorable babies! We had a great time playing a couple of games (the fan-favorite was “Guess the ‘Baby’ Song”) and hearing a devotional on Psalms 23. While hosting events on Zoom presents its own logistical challenges, it reinforced how it’s still possible to foster community and spread love to others even virtually. I hope this shower was a blessing to Heritage Home and I am looking forward to meeting the mothers and babies in person one day!

Black forest cake made with love by Betsy

Food Packing at Second Harvest

Second Harvest of Silicon Valley is committed to building a hunger-free community and provides healthy meals to anyone in need. They heavily rely on volunteers to help pack food, which is later distributed to community members. This is a popular volunteer activity for school, company, and church groups, so spots fill up quickly. I signed up for a morning shift (9am-12pm) one day during the week.

When you arrive, a greeter at the door checks your temperature to make sure you are healthy. During the introduction, a staff member informs everyone of the social distancing measures, such as wearing gloves, working at stations spread 6 or more feet apart, and not walking side-by-side in the hallway.

The morning I went happened to be the first time in three months that Second Harvest was sorting meat (as opposed to produce). I offered to be one of the bag counters. My responsibility was to count 240 bags of frozen ground turkey in each big box on a pallet. In total, we filled 14 boxes. These boxes would then be taken to various locations in the area where people can drive thru and collect groceries for the week.

I gotta say, I lost count more than once

Prior to the pandemic, Second Harvest was providing meals for 250,000 people in Silicon Valley. Since COVID-19, they now serve half a million people. This statistic really struck me as it made the devastating impact the pandemic has had on people, especially low-income families, that much more real.

Second Harvest is a really fun and easy way to volunteer for a very worthy cause. I am signed up to go later this week with some friends.

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