When faced by a crisis, we often gain a sense of clarity over what matters and what doesn’t. Health? Straight to the top of the priority list. Helping others? Also right up there. We’ve compiled a short list of volunteering schemes, support groups and social networks, all doing valuable work to support vulnerable communities and people.

Staying at home

Sometimes, as frustrating as it is, the best way to help is to stay at home. If you or someone you’re living with has underlying health problems, make sure that any volunteering you do is online or through phone calls. Don’t leave the house unless it’s essential, otherwise your own health or that of someone you’re living with could be seriously compromised. We all want to help. But we also need to think about helping those immediately around us.

If you are volunteering outside by doing deliveries or pickups, make sure you volunteer safely. It’s important to double-check the credentials of a scheme before you sign up. Unfortunately, fraudsters and scammers are taking advantage of generous and well-meaning people who want to help. As always, be careful and do some double-checking before committing.

Helping your community

One of the easiest ways to make a big difference is to offer help to neighbours who may have existing health issues and be self-isolating. Or they may be a key worker, run off their feet and struggling with childcare or cooking.

Among the amazing networks starting conversations and supporting those feeling isolated or overwhelmed are Covid Mutual Aid and Next Door. Covid Mutual Aid is a collection of online groups and dedicated Facebook pages for people who want to help those in need. Have a look and help people who are self-isolating feel supported and listened to, particularly those in the vulnerable demographic.

Next Door is a hyper-local social networking service which acts as a messaging platform to help communities feel more connected. Some of their most popular groups include the coronavirus group, isolation support for the vulnerable, and asthma sufferers in isolation. There are also groups for cake baking and brain teasers - plenty to keep you busy, engaged and smiling.

Getting involved with food banks

There has never been such a need and demand for food banks. And that means volunteers are more important than ever. The Trussell Trust supports a nationwide network of more than 1,200 food banks, many of which are looking for people to volunteer a few times a week. Tasks include collecting and managing donations and packing and delivering food to those most in need. You can also make a financial donation or deliver surplus food to your local food bank.

If you live in London, you could look into The Felix Project, a charity that tackles both food waste and hunger by redistributing food to the homeless, people with mental health problems, schoolchildren and people who can’t afford to buy regular, healthy meals. Along with CityHarvest and FareShare, they’re working to provide food for as many people as possible. After receiving hundreds of requests for volunteering, they’ve stopped taking new applications for now while they process new volunteers. To make sure nobody is left behind, the Felix Project, CityHarvest and Fareshare have formed the London Food Alliance, and they are asking for donations.

Supporting older people

Like the NHS, Age UK has paused its recruitment for volunteers to speak to elderly people over the phone after the overwhelming response to its callout. But do check back for openings.

In fact, charities have seen a massive drop in income over the last few weeks and so donating could be just as important as volunteering. The government has announced support for charities, but they will still need donations.

And in the meantime, why not send a handwritten letter to an elderly person in your life? Back in February, Age UK started a campaign to encourage people to write a letter to the elderly people in their lives.

The letter can be about anything - you could tell them about your day or a book you’re reading. You could even illustrate it and add some questions, so that they can send you a reply. If you or they are not able to go out and post letters, then email or text a photo for now and exchange the physical letters when you can.

The other thing you might like to tell friends or family about is the King Lear Prize, a creative competition for the over 70s who are not professional writers, musicians or artists. While they are in isolation, the King Lear Prize is encouraging people to create literature, poetry, music, drama and art - there’s a £1000 prize up for grabs for each category.

It’s also worth looking into local groups or opportunities in your area. For example, SilverLine, the free, confidential helpline that offers a Telephone Friendship service, is looking for volunteers based in Blackpool.

Sometimes the best way to help is simply by communicating: tell your friends and family that you’re thinking of them, give positive feedback to a colleague, send messages of support to those you interact with on social media, ask an essential worker you know if you can make them a batch of soup and drop it off. Keep talking, keep sharing, keep being kind.

When someone is self-isolating, buying food and essential supplies can be a big challenge for them. To help, Starling now offers an additional debit card you can give to anyone you trust, so they can buy whatever you need, no cash, contact, IOUs or fiddly bank details. The card is only for people you trust, and has a limit of £200.

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