Amid the chaos of COVID-19, Alachua County is looking for volunteers to help out with jobs ranging from delivering groceries to answering phone lines for people with questions.
The county has created a new community resource portal that has updated information on the coronavirus, a space to request assistance or to volunteer either as an individual or an organization.
The new portal makes it easier for the county to organize all of the volunteer requests from people in need, then deploy volunteers more easily, according to Alachua County Communications and Legislative Affairs Director Mark Sexton.
“By entering into this central location, it gives us the best chance of efficiently using these resources and getting them out to all of these different efforts that need help,” Sexton said.
Heather Akpan, the human resources director of Alachua County, is directly in charge of speaking with volunteers and matching them with jobs. She said about 50 people have already signed up.
All volunteering opportunities are created as people request help on the portal.
Residents over the age of 60 interested in volunteering are being encouraged to help out from home to keep safe from the virus.
“If you are older or even younger with underlying health conditions, that doesn’t keep you from volunteering, but we will try to make sure it’s things you can do from home,” Sexton said. “Every effort will be made to use the great experience that we have with our older citizens, but we want them to do it safely.”
Many organizations are using the volunteer portal to help staff their own events. When the Alachua County of Christian Pastors Association sponsored a community relief day on April 8, the county provided volunteers to aid in the event, which allowed families to sign up to receive two weeks of groceries at no expense, delivered to their houses.
One of the volunteers that worked at this event, David Hastings, said that it was refreshing to be a part of a group doing something good for the community during this time of social distancing.
“I’m not working now and I have lots of time, so it seems like the right thing to do,” Hastings said. “For me, at least, there is a lot of despair, so this was an excellent way to counter the despair that I’m feeling.”
Hastings said that all the volunteers took the necessary precautions against the virus, staying six feet apart from each other and wearing masks and gloves during the whole event.
“For those of us who have lost jobs or are having a hard time putting food on the table, it felt like a really good thing to do,” Hastings said. “It felt really empowering.”
Other organizations have become involved in the volunteering. One organization that is assisting the county is Bread of the Mighty Food Bank, a non-profit that serves five counties in North Florida.
The food bank distributes to pantries in Alachua, such as Grace Marketplace. As a result of the new coronavirus, they have seen a vast increase in the delivery of perishable items.
“We’re doing what we do every day because there’s hunger every day,” Tami Gray, the director of finance at the Bread of the Mighty Food Bank, said.
The volunteer program is set up to continue as long as there is need in the community.
“There are so many people in need right now, and Alachua County wants to make sure that we are proactively reaching out to people who need assistance and those who are willing to provide it,” Apkan said.