How safe volunteering is a proven way to beat the pandemic blues

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Posted at 8:31 AM, Nov 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-25 08:31:37-05

CLEVELAND — There is a serious need here at home. People are hungry. Food insecurity is growing in Northeast Ohio. People are also hungry for connections right now. But, there's a two-for-one that's helping both rebound from the pandemic.

On a fall afternoon in Cleveland, cars are lined up outside the city's Muni Lot.

"People are still struggling," said Karen Pozna, director of communications at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.

"Oh, this is so helpful to me and my family," said one man waiting in line.

"It's a blessing," exclaimed another woman waiting in her car.

The drive-through distribution has been happening weekly since the start of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year and isn't slowing down.

"We have definitely seen the need increase pretty dramatically over the last several months," said Ponza.

She says the spike came when stimulus checks ran out in August and has remained high as they head into the busy holiday season.

"You know, we're averaging over 3,000 households each week coming through this distribution, and we're expecting that to increase," she said.

For perspective, Ponza says a year ago they did their food distributions once a month at the food bank. And, for their 2019 Thanksgiving distribution, which was held the day before the holiday, Ponza says they served about 1,200 people.

"And we thought that was a crazy, busy day," she recalled. "Now, we're serving 3,000 people every week!"

The food bank is also preparing for a changing of the National Guard.

"We have been so fortunate to have the help of the Guard throughout the duration of the pandemic to date, but they're not going to be here forever," said Ponza.

Right now, the food bank is building up its army of volunteers to take over when the Ohio National Guard is set to leave at the end of the year.

"Volunteers are so critical to our operation," she said.

Volunteers like Sherlene Morihisa, 65.

She volunteers on distribution day. Plus, helps pack up boxes of food at the warehouse.

"I love the people," said Morihisa. "But, most of all, I like giving back."

And volunteering gives back to her.

"This is something that'll get you out of a rut or isolation because we're all a family here when we volunteer," she said.

Along with a rise in physical needs, like food, the pandemic has also increased emotional needs; as safety precautions have led many to decrease their social interactions.

"And by lifting others up, guess what? You lift yourself up as well," smiled Dr. Sheerli Ratner, a clinical psychologist at MetroHealth. "So, it really is a win-win."

Doctor Ratner says safe volunteering opportunities are one of the best ways to beat the pandemic blues.

"Research shows that giving to others, having a sense of purpose and meaning, reduces chronic pain, reduces the risk of chronic illness, and reduces symptoms of depression," she explained. "Plus, enables us to make healthier and better choices and helps us to think more clearly."

The food bank has strict cleaning and safety protocols to keep everyone healthy.

"It is safe here," said Sherlene." If it wasn't, I wouldn't be coming back."

The Greater Cleveland Food Bank just named Sherlene its volunteer of 2020.

"She is truly is a gem," said Karen about Sherlene.

Sherlene says volunteering has helped her gain peace and perspective this year.

"I mean, today I' m blessed," she said. "Tomorrow, something may happen and I'm coming to the food bank."

So, on a fall day in Cleveland, you too can help others, and yourself, rebound from the pains of the pandemic.

"To take adversity and to transform it into growth - that's the key," said. Dr. Ratner. "That's how we'll come out of this stronger."

The Greater Cleveland Food Bank is just one place you can help out. There are lots of great options.

We reached out to the Greater Cleveland Volunteers to help put together a list.

Here are some of their current volunteer opportunities:

  • Veterans for Veterans. This is a virtual option. Connecting veterans to other veterans to provide support.
  • Love for Our Elders. Sending letters, cards, postcards with cheerful messages to the elderly ahead of the holidays.
  • Wellness Calls. Phone calls to older adults to maintain they feel connected to others.
  • Prepping the Future Generation. A virtual option. Provide academic and mentoring resources and support to help high-performing, low-income students navigate a path to college and career success.
  • Warehouse sale help. Sales benefit a nonprofit hospice. December 5 and 6. Help as a sales floor assistant or move furniture and merchandise. Mask required.
  • Meal delivery. Nonprofit that delivers meals across Cleveland needs drivers Monday or Wednesday from 10 a.m.-2:00 p.m.
  • Sort medical supplies. Humanitarian nonprofit needs help sorting medical supplies sent to developing countries as humanitarian aid and COVID-19 relief.
  • Monthly Produce Distributions. Several food banks and pantries in need of help packing food, distribution, and greeting clients.

Contact Greater Cleveland Volunteers at 216-391-9500 Ext. 2116 to be connected to these volunteer opportunities and more.

This story is part of The Rebound: Northeast Ohio, News 5's initiative to help people through the financial impact of the coronavirus by offering one place to go for information on everything available to help and how to access it. We're providing resources on:

Getting Back to Work - Learn about the latest job openings, how to file for benefits and succeed in the job market.

Making Ends Meet - Find help on topics from rent to food to new belt-tightening techniques.

Managing the Stress - Feeling isolated or frustrated? Learn ways to connect with people virtually, get counseling or manage your stress.

Doing What's Right - Keep track of the way people are spending your tax dollars and treating your community.

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