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How To Volunteer And Provide Help To Local Resources

If you’re feeling stir-crazy, we found plenty of opportunities for both remote and in-person volunteering.

Hoosiers pride themselves on volunteering (remember knitting Super Bowl scarves?), but stay-at-home orders are in tension with that impulse. What’s better right now, staying out of the way or fearlessly pitching in? Nonprofits providing essential services are exempt from Gov. Eric Holcomb’s stay-at-home order. “Volunteers are the engine that keeps a lot of organizations running, and lot of those organizations are needed and in need right now,” says Stan Soderstrom, executive director of Indy-based Kiwanis International, a global service network with more than half a million members.

The ways to help from home are expanding as nonprofits shift their volunteer opportunities to virtual ones. Selfless.ly, an Indy-based tech company in the philanthropy space, is close to launching a new matchmaking service for nonprofits and the legions of potential homebound volunteers on virtualgiveback.org. It’s also working to recruit membership-based professional organizations into the volunteer pool to ensure that helpers are qualified. “We have a large amount of people sitting at home that will eventually run out of shows to watch,” says Selfless.ly CEO Josh Driver. “Let’s figure out other things a virtual volunteer could do. It’s not always the mission-critical opportunities. Do you need a new website? Do you need content? Things you need to get done in the office that maybe someone at home could be doing. Personally, I don’t understand SEO. I could learn it, but is there an SEO expert who could do it in 10 minutes?”

Some critical needs, though, can only be served in person, like food relief, one of the most urgent concerns to emerge during the COVID-19 outbreak. But groups don’t have time to train new volunteers right now. In those cases, donations of money go a long way. Here’s a good example: Midwest Food Bank has plenty of experienced volunteers. What they don’t have is the normal supply of nearly expired food from grocery stores as shelves are being cleaned out. Ramping up to purchase about $250,000 worth of food each week, the group needs cash on hand to jump on opportunities. It missed a truckload last week because it had only 30 minutes to claim it. The driver had the money from someone else within 15.

If you’re feeling stir-crazy, there are good reasons to volunteer in person. Donating blood is one of them. The American Red Cross canceled 10,000 blood drives through March 27, and some regular donors are skipping appointments to stay home. The major organizations have implemented new safety protocols and still welcome donors. For any in-person volunteering, though, choose wisely. “Do so only with an organization you know to be responsible,” says Soderstrom. “This is not a time to take chances.”

Help From Home

There’s nothing wrong with hunkering down. “If we want to serve others, the best thing all of us can do right now is stay home and help flatten the curve. But that doesn’t mean we should become disengaged,” say Blake Johnson, president of the nonprofit IndyHub.

Sales of the Indy Eleven Cares T-shirt benefit first-responder healthcare workers through the Community Health Network Foundation.

Indianapolis Hospitality United, a partnership between Tinker Coffee Co. and Homefield Apparel, is doing the same thing for hourly restaurant workers with 100 percent of net proceeds from the sale of this T-shirt. Pre-orders will ship in early May.

Wear your support on your sleeve (or your tote bag) via a new initiative, Local Love League. Joey and Sara Jean Potts of Guide & Anchor, Matinee Creative, and Rebekah Nolan have teamed up on designs for the Love is Contagious–themed line, and will donate 100 percent of net proceeds to the Indy Independent Relief Fund, which helps food- and alcohol-service workers, and the Hospitality Relief Fund, an effort launched by the Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association.

United State of Indiana prints the Local Love League items, but the company has also been busy designing new products of its own to support various Hoosier causes. A portion of the purchase price from its All In This Together tees, tote bags, and coffee mugs supports the Terre Haute Catholic Charities Food Bank and the Fort Wayne–based Community Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Indiana, nonprofits from the hometowns of USI’s owners. Other offerings, like the Thank Your Librarian (Quietly) tee, back the Indiana Library Federation, while the Thank a Nurse (For Your Health) mug and the Pawnee Emergency Response Team tee boost the COVID-19 Community Economic Relief Fund.

The Covid-19 Indianapolis Response effort, which pairs a volunteer with an elderly or immunocompromised person to check on, already has 1,000 helpers. Founder Alicia Baker is working her connections in social work and community centers to identify the citizens in need. New volunteers will likely be routed to other nonprofits as needs arise. Sign up on covaid.co and check its newsletter for a running updated list of volunteer needs around town.

The student-run Hamilton County group Phone a Friend hooks up high-schoolers and college kids with seniors in their communities. Volunteers can join the Talk Team to ring up an elderly citizen, check on their needs, and chat to ease their buddy’s isolation.

United Way maintains a large list of virtual volunteer opportunities and ideas for supporting your community, such as phone buddies or reading a storybook on Facebook Live.

IndyHub, the city’s largest network of young professionals, is holding a letter-writing campaign for first responders called The Write Party today.

Send a positive message or a drawing to kids who are out of school. The Patachou Foundation is including Lunchbox Letters in the 3,000 to 4,000 meals it sends to underserved children each week. Drop them off in the plastic bin behind the Foundation’s office at 4565 Marcy Lane (no envelope necessary). Patachou is also accepting monetary donations—its service footprint has quadrupled recently. Cover a week’s worth of scratch-made meals for a child for $25.

Through virtualgiveback.org, use your professional expertise to benefit one of about 100 nonprofits in Indiana—one that might not be on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, but still needs to be sustained while most resources are being diverted to the front lines.

The shortage of personal protective equipment in hospitals isn’t going away anytime soon, and now the CDC suggests that everyone wear a homemade mask in public. Several local groups need sewers to fill their orders and supply chains: Million Mask Challenge Indy, MasksNOW Indiana, Sew and Serve Indy, and Sew CDC-Compliant Masks for Central Indiana are good ones. If you know a sewer, consider giving a gift certificate to a local fabric store for an online order; Crimson Tate and The French Seam are delivering. The citizen brigade also includes people buying a mask from Howl & Hide Supply Co., which sends two free masks to Eskenazi with each purchase.

Coburn Place is asking homebound Hoosiers to print or cut out crosswords, coloring pages, puzzles, and other games to create an activity packet for its residents, who are survivors of domestic abuse. You’ll schedule a no-contact drop-off. You can also make welcome-home cards or donate diapers and trash bags. Email [email protected] for more information.

To support housing the homeless or domestic-violence victims, shop the Amazon Wish Lists of The Wheeler Mission, Horizon House, and Coburn Place.

Help By Showing Up

You can justify volunteering in person—if you aren’t in a high-risk category or caring for someone who is. No matter what, read the United Way’s tips for safe volunteering, observe all social distancing and hand-washing protocols, and arrive prepared with your own mask, gloves, and hand and surface sanitizers.

Food access is one of the biggest needs to emerge during the crisis, and volunteers are needed to prepare and distribute meals. The Midwest Food Bank needs manpower for its neighborhood food pantries.

Second Helpings is mobilizing people to make sandwiches and pack meals.

Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana offers shifts of two or three hours to work a food pantry, unload trucks, or sort items.

Westminster Neighborhood Services says it is in constant need of volunteers and donations to provide 5,000 meals a day to eastsiders with the help of Neidhammer Coffee Co. The numbers of families it served jumped 41 percent from February to March due to the financial strain of the outbreak.

Blood supplies are being depleted because drives have been cancelled and many regular donors are staying home. The city’s website has details on how to donate to the American Red Cross and Versiti (formerly the Indiana Blood Center).

Girls Inc. of Johnson County could use helping hands with outside yardwork to prepare for summer camps. Email [email protected].   

For more opportunities, see Indy.gov’s COVID-19 volunteering list.

As the virus continues to spread and state and local governments tighten restrictions on what businesses need to stay open, things are, admittedly, looking like they’re going to get worse before they get better. But the Indianapolis community has shown solidarity with one another, with several organizations starting GoFundMes and other fundraising efforts, raising millions of dollars to continue to support those who are facing serious economic consequences as a result of this pandemic.

How the Art Community is Helping Itself

For many of the community organizations and venues that aren’t receiving grant money or corporate backing, GoFundMe and other online fundraising campaigns are proving to be the way to go. Venues such as The Hi-Fi and organizations like Indiana Music Industry Relief Fund—which was started by the nonprofit Midway Music Speaks and focuses on support for women and non-binary musicians—have launched fundraising pages to raise money while closures and cancellations have taken away income.

The Indianapolis Jazz Foundation and others banded together to start the Indy Musicians Relief Fund, which centers around jazz and related genre musicians in Indianapolis. Its initial goal of $50,000 has been surpassed, but you can still pitch in to help the cause.

One of the most expansive and community-minded outreaches is an open Google Sheets page called the Indy Service Workers List, to which bartenders, servers, dog walkers, and others in the Indianapolis area can add their Venmo information so anyone can float them some money.

The Indy Chamber has also launched a Buy Indy campaign, compiling a list of Indianapolis businesses that are still offering services to help keep the local economy afloat. You can find more information online, including what businesses are looking for support.

Indy Arts & Culture COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund

According to a survey conducted by the Arts Council of Indianapolis, 95 percent of individual artists, across all media, are anticipating a serious economic hit due to the cancellation of local events and closure of venues. A significant portion of those surveyed said they believed the loss they take could kneecap their economic stability. Additionally, nearly two-thirds of local nonprofit arts and cultural institutions are anticipating a critical economic hit. While these numbers sound scary for Indy’s vibrant creative scene, the Arts Council—with the help of the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation Inc., the Central Indiana Community Foundation, the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation, the Herbert Simon Family Foundation, and Efroymson Family Fund—is stepping in and helping where it can, creating the Indy Arts & Culture COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund. A public GoFundMe has been launched, with a sweet addendum attached: The Efroymson Family Fund will match any amount gifted up to $25,000. In all, the Indy Arts & Culture COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund is expected to surpass $400,000. Times may be tough, but it will take more to crush Indy’s creative spirit.

Central Indiana COVID-19 Community Economic Relief Fund (C-CERF)

This fund—made up of investments from a litany of local heavy-hitters, including Lilly Endowment Inc., Central Indiana Community Foundation, Eli Lilly and Company Foundation, Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, and United Way of Central Indiana—has given nearly $12 million so far to more than 70 Central Indiana organizations. The grants’ purpose is to help provide some sense of stability to organizations whose funding is otherwise at risk of drying up as harsher measures are put in place over the coming weeks. The fund plans to have more money on the way, as it looks at organizations that provide necessary community services, such as food security, childcare, and homeless shelters, among others. The full list of organizations that have been granted money so far can be found online.

Fernandez began writing for Indianapolis Monthly in 1995 while studying journalism at Indiana University. One of her freelance assignments required her to join a women's full-tackle football team for a season. She joined the staff in 2005 to edit IM's ancillary publications, including Indianapolis Monthly Home. In 2011, she became a senior editor responsible for the Circle City section as well as coverage of shopping, homes, and design-related topics. Now the director of editorial operations, she lives in Garfield Park.
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