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COVID crisis, time to protect selves and serve others

April 23, 2020

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, April 24, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating significant hardship for many, some more than others. So far, our family has fared well.

We are all healthy and none of our immediate family members or friends have experienced COVID symptoms. For now, my wife Lori and I are both still working and the recent government check we received sits in an emergency savings account. We live in a community where we have plentiful access to outdoor spaces where we can safely walk, run, bike and hike, helping our bodies remain active and minds calm.

We have not been without stress and anxiety, though, as we consider the exposure risk when Lori treats patients at the clinic where she works. Though they are managing fairly well, our children Adam and Zoe, as is true for their peers, are missing their routines, friends, school and after-school activities and remain pensive about future uncertainties. I have been adapting by starting my work days in the basement home office as early as 6 a.m. This allows me time needed to complete my daily work, support Adam with his home schooling, go for walks with Zoe and Adam at lunch time and keep the household functioning when Lori is at work.

So far, the new conditions of daily life — in our home, and for nearly all of our friends and family — merely produce mild or moderate discomfort. We have even experienced some notable benefits during the COVID lockdown, such as more quality time together as a family, the absence of what is normally a frantic weekly schedule, enjoying both creating and eating healthy home cooked meals together, and more conversation (virtually) with distant friends and family.

But we need not look far to see that others are experiencing tremendous hardship. The rising numbers of COVID-presumed infections, confirmed cases and deaths in our community, nation and world is an obvious, horrifying reality. And while the top priority is to shore up one’s personal and family well-being (first put on our own oxygen masks, as advised during air travel), in times of crisis there exists great opportunity to be of service to others, especially those who are uniquely vulnerable and more greatly impacted.

In this spirit, we have identified three local organizations that are heroically working to meet the needs of others — those experiencing food shortages, domestic violence and strain from serving on the front lines as health care workers — and donated funds to support each cause.

As Andrew Moorehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusettsrecently reminded us, challenges faced by many of us to access our favorite foods and stock pile for an uncertain future pale compared to those who, in the best of times, struggle to feed their families. Now more than ever, food banks are a life line for the increasing numbers of those facing hunger, a number sure to climb given 22 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in recent weeks. Those wanting to help can donate, volunteer or advocate by visiting www.foodbankwma.org.

Marianne Winters, executive director of Safe Passage, recently reminded us that social isolation is commonplace for those experiencing domestic and intimate partner violence. Stay-at-home orders can mean survivors are stuck at home with an abuser, leaving the survivor more susceptible to physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse. These same stay-at-home orders can reduce access to treatment, safety and support after abuse, leading to untreated injuries and psychological trauma, unwanted pregnancies, and lack of access to money for basic needs. Those wanting to help can donate, volunteer or advocate by visiting www.safepass.org.

Local resident Lisa Oram wanted to support frontline health care workers — show they some love — for their tireless efforts during the COVID crisis. Many are working extraordinarily long hours, risking exposure to COVID through direct patient care, and emotionally wrought with the task of treating an increasing number of cases despite real resource limitations. Beyond the doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and other care providers, many more are ensuring that facilities and materials are sanitized, operating around-the-clock laundry service and developing and implementing management practices and policies in an ever-changing and high-stress environment.

With help from her husband, Steve Brown (who happens to be my boss), Lisa cooked up a plan to raise money from friends and pay local restaurants (who are also facing great hardship and shut down from loss of business) to provide lunches and dinners to staff at our local hospital, Cooley Dickinson. Those wanting to contribute can donate or volunteer to pick up and deliver food by visiting www.northampton.live/feedthefrontlines.

Of course, there are many other ways to be of service, including calls and care packages for those who live alone, offers to purchase and deliver groceries, virtual tutoring and story time for children whose parents are working or ill, and ordering a take-out meal once a week to support a local restaurant, to name a few.

As we all continue to practice hand-washing, physical distancing and stay-at-home precautions, we can also seize — especially those of us faring well — unique opportunities to be of service to others. While no one of us can bring an end to the pandemic, each one of us can make a difference in the lives of others, in the best of times and in a crisis, too.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website fatherhoodjourney.com.

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