When our nation is faced with a crisis, we pull together and spring into action.
From digging through rubble after an earthquake to using personal boats on flooded streets to rescue neighbors to volunteering long hours to deliver food and supplies to communities in need, Americans step up and give back.
There is just something about a time of need that inspires us to put aside differences and physically come together to lend a hand.
This crisis has been different. Our traditional methods of community involvement – getting out the door and getting our hands dirty – are not the best way to help during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’ve been asked to distance ourselves from others to prevent the spread of coronavirus. For those of us used to a hands-on approach to volunteering and activism, it can feel like we’re not able to give or help our friends and neighbors who are hurting.
But we are adapting, learning how to provide support from a distance and maintain strong communities around us.
Alongside the businesses and schools that have embraced remote work and virtual meetups, volunteers and activists are finding creative ways to give back, connect with each other, and speak up about the challenges they’re facing.
The idea of virtual volunteering is evolving. What had originally been limited to raising awareness for a cause or driving electronic signatures to online petitions has developed into full-scale movements to provide relief and bring about change.
Virtual town halls with elected officials, nonprofit collaborations, fundraising campaigns, innovative outlets to facilitate calls to action, and platforms for boosting morale have exploded over the past few weeks.
If anyone thinks they can’t make a difference while sheltered in place, that just isn’t true.
The human impulse to do something during a crisis still needs to be met, and virtual volunteering is making that possible.
Thousands across the country are making meaningful contributions, not just to solving this current crisis, but to an entire host of other causes.
For example, Concerned Veterans for America has experienced an increase in activity among volunteers and community partners thanks to web tools that allow for connection with other veterans, digital town halls with lawmakers, and activism opportunities to keep a focus on veterans’ health care and foreign policy reform. While we may not be able to meet with our volunteers and activists in person, we’ve been able to connect with them virtually to keep up the momentum on important policy issues.
There are still challenges ahead.
Florida is joining other states in re-opening businesses and the local economy in the weeks ahead. Once this current crisis passes and our worlds return to some semblance of normalcy, we will likely see a drop off in virtual activity.
But our goal is to push the boundaries of virtual volunteering and find more ways to integrate it into traditional methods of activism. The human need to do something, even when we are limited in what we can do, will always be there.
It is up to us who work in volunteerism to make sure we are ready to fill that need in productive and meaningful ways. We now have proven tools to do that.
We should take what we’ve learned over the last few months and apply it to our volunteerism and activism moving forward.
Derek Collins is a community engagement director with Concerned Veterans for America in Florida.