Community volunteers step in to support pandemic response

When the novel coronavirus pandemic upended everyday American life in March, Great Falls resident James Ye turned to a 110-year-old organization for guidance: the Boy Scouts.

Now a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Ye joined Boy Scouts of America Troop 55 when he was in fifth grade and has since accumulated approximately 1,000 hours of community service.

Ye says the values ​​embraced by the Scout Oath and Law, which include volunteerism, were on his mind when he saw a Facebook ad looking for volunteers for the Volunteer Fairfax Donations Collection Warehouse.

“During national historic crises, Scout organizations always spring into action, somehow helping in emergency response,” Ye said. “…I think the coronavirus is another example of a historic national disaster, and as a Scout, just doing your duty to your country, I wanted to be a part of it.”

Run by the nonprofit organization Volunteer Fairfax, the warehouse is Fairfax County’s hub for organizing masks, food and other resources for community organizations as part of its emergency response. COVID-19 emergency.

At first, Ye mainly assisted Volunteer Fairfax’s emergency response manager, Tejas Patel, with maintaining an inventory of donations passing through the warehouse, but his duties later expanded to include greeting and contacting donors, research and content sharing on social networks.

Ye, who has racked up 190 hours of service at the warehouse, is one of thousands of local community members who have contributed to Fairfax County’s pandemic emergency response as volunteers.

Fairfax County reported Oct. 6 that nearly 3,000 volunteers have collectively spent 96,006 hours since March 17 assisting various county departments, including police and fire departments, public libraries, and domestic and sexual violence departments. .

In addition, more than 1,000 people have registered with the Fairfax Medical Reserve Corps, which assists the Fairfax County Health Department in emergencies. With 521 volunteers now onboarded, 233 people have contributed 4,392 volunteer hours since March 1, doing everything from managing medical supply donations to assisting with community testing sites and back-to-school vaccination clinics. school.

“The Northern Virginia area in general has a large and reliable base of volunteers spanning all ages, ethnicities, and a wide range of talents,” Volunteer Fairfax CEO Steve Mutty said via email. . “When an emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic occurs, spontaneous volunteering (especially by individuals) increases.”

Mutty says the Tysons area tends to be a consistent source of group volunteering due to its concentration of corporate offices, whose employees are frequently encouraged to volunteer.

With many people working remotely during the pandemic, many companies have shifted their philanthropy to virtual, socially distanced activities. Tysons-based consulting firm Portals Global, for example, donated 15,000 KN95 masks to Fairfax County in July.

According to Mutty, Volunteer Fairfax has more than 20 partner agencies in the Tysons area and nearly 2,300 individual volunteers registered from Tysons zip codes.

Donations of masks and other types of personal protective equipment (PPE) have become a popular way for community members to join Fairfax County’s pandemic response efforts. As of October 6, Volunteer Fairfax has collected more than 20,974 adult masks and 3,345 children’s masks.

While volunteering, Ye noticed that many of the masks donated to the Volunteer Fairfax warehouse came from local businesses and individuals, including people his age.

“If each person kind of does their part, then I think it makes it easier for all of us,” Ye said.

While demand for PPE is still high, the top two requests for support Fairfax County receives are for food and rentals, Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said.

Compared to other districts in the county, Providence is in the middle of the pack when it comes to the need for emergency assistance, accounting for about 45 requests for food assistance and more than 100 requests for housing assistance in August alone.

Palchik staff regularly travel to different neighborhoods to collect donations for the Food for Others food pantry. The county also held two Stuff the Bus food drives in September that brought more than 27 tons of food to 10 local nonprofits.

However, the need for help remains urgent eight months after the start of the pandemic.

Fairfax County Coordinated Services Planning, which directs residents to social services, saw a 200% increase in its call volume in the last week of September compared to the same week in 2019, according to Palchik, who encourages people to support local food banks with monetary donations if they can afford it.

Volunteer Fairfax coordinates donations and volunteers for Fairfax County’s COVID-19 emergency response through https://www.volunteerfairfax.org/home/covid-19/.

“These are very difficult times,” Palchik said. “While there is a lot of need in our community, I think it’s just enlightening and encouraging to see that we’re all coming together and supporting each other, and we’ll get through this as a community. .”

Photo via Fairfax County Government Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery

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