As communities slowly work out when and how to reopen, those who are older or medically at risk may opt to continue self-isolating. Many are asking: “Are there ways we can serve our community while sheltering in place?”
Yes! You can be cautious AND compassionate. You can care for your own health while actively caring for others. You can be cautious AND compassionate. You can care for your own health while actively caring for others. Click To Tweet
Here are seven ways you can make a difference—from home.
Build caring connections
A simple but powerful way to help right now is to reach out to those in need of a friend.
Social isolation takes a toll on physical and mental health. Those living alone may not know where to turn for assistance or may fear getting sick without anyone knowing. Having a friend who checks in with them, intentionally and regularly, will be life-giving.
The main requirement is a willingness to listen well and build an authentic connection. Share one another’s joys and hurts, offer to pray, and refer to other resources as needed. While there are many ways to stay in touch, if you like using your phone to actually call people—you have an advantage in connecting with those who don’t live online!
On our block or around the country, think of individuals who need to hear a friendly voice: “Hi, I was thinking of you and wanted to be in touch. What’s life like for you today?”
Be an encourager
Your home can also be the staging ground for a ministry to “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thess 5:11).
A starting place is to gratefully acknowledge all the people who make it possible to shelter in place: grocery order shoppers, mail carriers, FedEx truck drivers, pizza delivery, for example. A simple note can have a powerful impact: Thank you for what you do. We’re praying for you. Stay safe. A starting place is to gratefully acknowledge all the people who make it possible to shelter in place: grocery order shoppers, mail carriers, FedEx truck drivers, pizza delivery. Click To Tweet
Who else needs encouragement right now?
- Those on the pandemic frontlines, providing medical care and social services
- “Ordinary” workers such as store clerks and warehouse stockers who put themselves at risk, often for low pay
- Households facing hard struggles—finances, family conflict, special needs children, loss of a loved one
You can’t erase their stress, but you can lighten their load. Express your support with a card or voice message, and perhaps a tangible gesture such as a care package or e-gift card.
Give kids attention
Do you enjoy children? A dose of one-on-one attention from a responsible, caring adult can be transformative for bored kids, not to mention their frazzled parents.
Reach out to a family with kids in your congregation, neighborhood, or social network. If your church sponsors a youth program, or partners with an agency that serves families, this could also lead to a connection.
Coordinate with the child’s parent or guardian to set up online visits. Video chat about their day, help with their schoolwork, tell jokes, read a story, play Uno or Minecraft online. Be creative, be flexible, be affirming—the positive attention is what matters most. Just be sure your involvement stays transparent to their guardian.
Share what you can make or do
Do you have a domestic superpower? Are you good at baking, knitting, woodworking, drawing, gardening, carving, canning, or other activities? Sharing a homemade item has practical value plus a meaningful personal touch.
Many people are sewing face masks to share. Other ideas to consider include:
- Grow starter plants from seed to give to new gardeners
- Bake gluten-free bread for someone with this dietary requirement (gluten-free bread is expensive and may be hard to find online)
- Use a scroll saw to make simple jigsaw puzzles for young children
- Draw coloring pages incorporating an inspiring message
- Make frozen meals that an essential worker can heat and eat after a long shift
Before you give anything away, follow this important rule: Ask first. It isn’t kind to pass on items that someone doesn’t need or doesn’t want, or that may even cause an allergic reaction. Also, follow health guidelines in packing items safely for mail or pickup.
Besides what you can make, consider sharing what you can do. For example, if you are skilled in setting up social media and designing websites, you could be a hero to a non-tech-savvy congregation, nonprofit or small business. Or talk people through setting up new apps and software. Or produce promotional videos to support a cause (see the next suggestion)!
What do nonprofits serving the community generally need most right now? Money. Contributions have gone down as needs are rising exponentially.
Make strategic donations. Food programs may already be getting a lot of support. Consider other nonprofits that often get less attention, such as a domestic violence program, homeless shelter, refugee ministry, foster care agency, disability support group, suicide prevention network, prison outreach, or addiction recovery program.
Other places where funding support may be especially needed now:
- Networks aiding the unemployed and struggling small business owners
- Organizations focused on sports, arts, and culture
- Hard-hit African American, Latino, and immigrant communities
- Agencies working in desperately poor regions around the world
Even if you can’t afford to give much yourself, you can organize a fundraiser for a chosen cause, using your personal network and social media. Or you can find out what specific items a nonprofit needs and help spread the word.
In this constantly evolving environment, access to accurate, up-to-date information is critical. If you have an aptitude for research, you can perform a valuable service by sifting through the ocean of information out there to share the most relevant streams.
For example, help your church and neighborhood stay current on:
- Local health data
- Restrictions on activity and other safety precautions
- Sources of assistance and how to apply
- Mental health resources
- Ways people can safely help meet needs in the community
- Free online activities for children and families
Sharing summaries and links to information can be a real service. But immersion in the COVID-19 world can become overwhelming … so take breaks as needed.
Marian Anderson said wisely, “Prayer begins where human capacity ends.” We all struggle with feeling powerless against a global pandemic, especially when staying home to stay safe. Prayer acknowledges that our hope in this crisis lies ultimately with our Creator. We all struggle with feeling powerless against a global pandemic, especially when staying home to stay safe. Prayer acknowledges that our hope in this crisis lies ultimately with our Creator. Click To Tweet
Be a dedicated pray-er by setting aside regular time to intercede for those who are struggling, in your community and around the world. Let people know that you are available to listen to their concerns and lift them up to God. Wrestle in prayer with the racial and economic disparities in who is most affected by the disease. Coordinate collective prayer events to come before God in unity.
With determination and creativity, social distancing does not remove you from engaging with your community. Connect with those who are lonely, encourage those who struggle, give kids your (online) attention, share your skills, raise funds, collate info, and keep praying … all while staying safe and flattening the curve!
Please join authors Joy Skjegstad and Heidi Unruh on Thursday, May 14th, 2 pm ET, for a Facebook Live conversation about Caring for our Neighbors from Afar. You can also download this comprehensive resource they have created on this topic for churches who want more ideas and inspiration on how to minister to their communities during these days of quarantine.
About the Authors
Joy Skjegstad (firstname.lastname@example.org) helps churches around the U.S. develop strategic vision and connect in creative ways with their communities. She is the author of Seven Creative Models for Community Ministry, Starting a Nonprofit at Your Church, and Winning Grants to Strengthen Your Ministry.
Heidi Unruh (UnruhHeidi@gmail.com) supports church leaders with ideas and practical tools for ministry, especially with vulnerable families. Her books include Churches That Make a Difference and Hope for Children in Poverty. As a team, Joy & Heidi provide coaching and customized training to help churches develop effective community engagement strategies.