Organizations have addressed volunteer challenges brought about by COVID-19 restrictions in a number of different ways. Some organizations appear to have added safety measures and protocols, in order to continue using volunteers similarly to pre-COVID. Others have completely stopped their volunteer programs. It appears the majority of organizations have found new ways to use their volunteers given the social distancing restrictions and different needs brought on by the pandemic. Many aged care facilities have started virtual meetings and events, and one location began a daily bulletin to engage and connect with residents. Phone calls and Skype or Zoom meetings have replaced in-person visits. Other organizations are actively creating digital content on their websites to serve as resources and places where people can find assistance. Several organizations have called on volunteers to sew face masks for use in their facilities or for those in need. The pandemic has created the need for additional safety screening for visitors, which in turn has become a duty fulfilled by volunteers. A number of organizations have increased their use of volunteers to address the increased demand for help required to deal with the emergency situation, especially for food distribution. Many organizations are creating and expanding online education programs, and they are encouraging their volunteers to be activists through digital channels.
Aged Care Providers
- Arcare Aged Care: During the April lockdown, many of Arcare’s 400 volunteers kept in touch with residents through their “Volunteering from Home” program, using phone calls and Skype, and writing cards, letters, and emails. During the lockdown their Volunteer Coordinator, Marg Furlong, communicated with volunteers to ensure they completed the mandatory online hand hygiene training, as well as updating their influence vaccinations, so that volunteers could be ready to return to the homes as soon as restrictions were lifted. Furlong, together with two remote volunteers, created the Light-hearted Daily Worksheets to keep residents engaged and in good spirits during the lockdown. The two-sided worksheets included historical trivia, jokes, riddles, and an international day of significance. This idea has grown and continued on a daily basis, and uses 20 volunteers. The worksheet is now the Daily Bulletin, and is translated into 10 languages (Greek, Italian, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Hungarian, Hebrew, Dutch, Finnish and Turkish). Each day has a “different theme, such as motivating Monday, technology Tuesday, wellness Wednesday, thankful Thursday and feel good Friday.” Additionally, a volunteer who has been a singer in aged care facilities for 15 years records the weekend editions of the Daily Bulletin for those who have a hard time reading.
- Uniting Care: The organization is calling for volunteers to sew additional face masks for distribution to those that do not have access, and to aged care facilities. Uniting is also seeking volunteers to host a weekly friendship group every weekend through Telelink, a phone support program. Uniting’s Linlithgow centre is seeking a volunteer to host a variety of activities over the phone, including to host Tombola (Italian bingo), provide quiz and friendship links, and make 1:1 phone calls to help ease social isolation for the aged care residents.
- Bupa: Bupa reallowed volunteers back into many of their facilities on June 30, under the guidelines that they complete a health declaration, temperature checks, handwashing on entry, provide certification of flu vaccination, and wearing a mask in the homes.
- Allity Aged Care: It appears Allity has continued to use its volunteers under appropriate safety measures. This provider indicated that if it becomes a challenge to maintain appropriate staffing levels, agency workers might be brought in through government surge workforce or private agencies. Allity has indicated that whenever possible, its own staff would be used who are familiar with their Allity processes and principles, and if possible they would move staff from other (non-outbreak) Allity homes to the location that needs additional staff. As of August 5, 2020, Allity has indicated that volunteers providing medical care must wear appropriate PPE as indicated by the Australian Guidelines, indicating volunteers continue to work under these safety guidelines. On May 1, Allity issued a reminder to volunteers that they would be required to receive and bring documentation of the influenza vaccination, in accordance with government guidelines, in order to continue entering the homes.
- Regis Healthcare has completely suspended their volunteer program due to safety concerns for the foreseeable future.
- Bethanie: This Australian aged care facility increased its volunteers in anticipation of needing extra help in the event of an outbreak in their community. Additionally, Bethanie is seeking volunteers to sew additional cloth masks, so that their aged care communities have enough on hand for community clients coming into the homes as the pandemic situation continues into the future.
- The Neighbourhood Centre: This Australian volunteer engagement and management program is actively seeking volunteers to make blank cards with caring and supportive messages for distribution to isolated residents in aged care or in their own homes.
- ACH Group: This Australian aged care provider is seeking volunteers to serve as COVID-19 Concierge for their residential care facilities. The volunteer will be the first point of contact for all visitors and consumers, and be responsible for screening visitors as per pandemic regulations. ACH Group will provide the volunteer with specific COVID-19 training to comply with government regulations, and the volunteer must have a current flu vaccination. Concierge duties include: welcoming visitors to the residence, review each visitor against entry criteria, take and record every visitor’s temperature, prompt visitors to complete a visitor declaration, check evidence of visitor’s current flu vaccination certificate, provide or restrict access to visitors based on entry criteria, document visitor access and those where access has been denied, and provide handover to relevant staff on site where required.
- Laurus Hospice, Independence Village Senior Living Communities in Michigan, USA: The hospice section of Independence Village is actively seeking volunteers at numerous locations throughout Michigan, USA. Volunteer jobs include screening visitors in accordance with COVID regulations before entering the facility, helping with community events, companionship work, office organization, life enrichment, and providing a friendly presence. The Senior Living community provides all necessary and required PPE to the volunteers. Laurus is also seeking bereavement volunteers, to do the following: “Bring joy and comfort to those suffering the loss of a loved one. Make care calls, send letters, drop off flowers/gifts, be a smile and joyful presence in the lives of those that are grieving, offer prayer/encouragement if the family allows and if you are comfortable.” The organization is adhering to social distancing, strict PPE, and cleanliness guidelines to protect all patients, staff, and volunteers, as outlined by the CDC.
- Australian Federation of Disability Organisations: The organization requires all disability support workers to wear masks (in some cases face shields) and eye protection. The organization provides a link to a downloadable information sheet detailing how and when to properly use PPE, and also how the disabled citizens they are interacting with should or should not use PPE.
- Blind Citizens Australia: While not directly providing information on how volunteers are working with the organization, the site is offering online Happy Hours for their members to connect. The site provides links to resources offered by other blind organizations for how to connect via Zoom. These sources include: Zoom tutorial by New Horizons, and a How To guide for accessing Zoom created by Women with Disability Australia. The site also shares that BCA has already been working remotely for a number of years, and as such are able to operate much the same as usual. BCA continues to advocate for safe access to groceries and supplies to help blind citizens during this pandemic.
- Deafblind Australia: The organization also does not indicate any changes in their volunteer activities, other than the postponement of their 2020 Western Australian Deafblind Camp from March 12, 2020, to March 15, 2021. The site provides video links and transcripts for helpful information and hotlines to help people dealing with issues surrounding the pandemic; a Helpline is available specifically for assistance if a person’s support worker has not shown up, if a provider has stopped support services, the person is having trouble obtaining food or essential items, or if the person is feeling physically or mentally unwell.
- Liverpool Volunteer Resource Center: This Australian organization is seeking additional volunteers to help with food delivery to disabled and homebound people in the community. The organization is following guidelines from “health authorities and all volunteers and staff are following our standard food safety procedures, good hand hygiene and as an extra precaution are using hand sanitising gel between each home they visit. We have also asked our volunteers to practise social distancing recommendations (where possible) when delivering meals.”
- Eastern Volunteers Community Drivers: This Australian organization provides transportation to assist disabled and elderly citizens still living independently get to and from medical appointments. The organization is actively seeking additional volunteers; due to the pandemic, they are requiring applicants be under 65 years of age, and providing a form for COVID clearance from the applicant’s doctor.
- Neighbourhood Cooks Moreland: This Australian organization usually engages volunteers to share some of their home-cooked meals with disabled and elderly residents in their homes. Due to social distancing restrictions, instead of sharing meals, “volunteers will receive training about supporting people to engage in activities via phone and virtually.”
- Hope Clinic, Michigan, USA: This organization provides free medical, dental, food, and social services to those in need, including disabled and homebound citizens. Hope Clinic has expanded its free food support programs to assist people during the COVID pandemic, and is operating with all mandated safety precautions in place for its volunteers. The organization is actively seeking volunteers to help with activities that assist disabled citizens, and may also apply to the asylum seeker section of this research. Volunteer opportunities include: onsite grocery and produce distribution to those in need, home grocery delivery, receiving and organizing donations, preparing and handing out hot meals, and other behind the scenes support.
- Autism Society of America: In order to support their efforts to offer assistance to people with autism during the pandemic, this organization is encouraging volunteers to engage digitally. The Society is providing shareable digital resources to use in schools, home school settings, and on digital and social media platforms to raise awareness and generate more support. In order to raise funds when in-person volunteer activities are not possible, the Society is encouraging volunteers to engage their employees through work-from-home efforts, host a peer-to-peer fundraising appeal, or start a Facebook fundraiser.
Asylum Seeker Groups
- Refugee Council of Australia: This organization has taken its Face to Face program digital, allowing the former in-person school presentations to be available to more locations during school closures. The program is being expanded and more volunteers are being trained to provide the program in the months and year ahead.
- Academics for Refugees: The Academics for Refugees has published a COVID-19 Open Letter to the Australian Government, and the organization is encouraging other academics, doctors, and librarians to sign and distribute the letter. The letter addresses the need for COVID-19 control measures in immigration detention and refugee communities.
- Australia for UNHCR: The website shares detailed information about how donations from Australia are being used in UN efforts globally. The site offers links for Australians to learn about how donations will be used, what has already been done, why additional help is needed, and how to donate online. Extensive information is offered on the site about relief efforts being provided globally to address the pandemic.
- Uniting: The organization is seeking additional volunteers to assist with their emergency relief services and community meals programs to assist those that need support during the pandemic. The organization indicates that according to the Department of Health and Human Services, people can leave their homes during lockdown restrictions to volunteer if their host organization is still operating. Uniting also provides specifications for their pandemic plan, which volunteers must follow. Guidelines include specifically: “Wash your hands regularly and use hand sanitiser. Cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow or cover your mouth with disposable tissues. Throw the tissues away immediately and wash your hands. Avoid touching your face and mouth after touching public surfaces. Keeping about 1.5m in between yourself and others where possible. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, or feeling unwell, please stay at home and recover.”
- Uniting Asylum Seeker Welcome Centre: Uniting is seeking additional volunteers for the Preparation for Work Program. The volunteer will remotely meet asylum seekers looking for work for their appointments over the phone, rather than in person as was the case pre-COVID.
- Regional Refugee Support Network (UK): The organization has created a Connected through COVID initiative, which shares supportive messages with isolated young refugees, and seeks to learn from refugees about coping with crisis. The organization has adapted their programs in several ways: they are offering educational support remotely via phone or video conferencing, and they are creating a pilot program which will allow volunteers to offer virtual educational mentoring. The organization is also facilitating emergency food drop offs and care packages.