At Habitat, most AmeriCorps members hold the position of Construction Volunteer Facilitator. However, due to COVID-19, all construction sites are closed until further notice. For this reason, many Habitat AmeriCorps members are currently engaging in alternative service activities in order to still earn hours and get things done for the community.
It had been two weeks since construction operations were suspended, and I’d been self-isolating since then, trying to do my part to “flatten the curve.” As a result, I was going a bit stir-crazy. I went out once a day for a walk or bike ride, but the only social interaction I had was maybe a few “hi”s to and from fellow pedestrians and bicyclists. In the evening, I would call friends and relatives, but I was still quite lonely.
Habitat AmeriCorps Member Mickey Foley
After spending the first week in my apartment, I went to stay with my parents, which helped relieve some of my loneliness. It was a big relief to get the email from The Food Group saying they were offering volunteer opportunities again.
I volunteered with them extensively in 2014 and 2015 when they started the organic Micro-Farm on the premises of their warehouse in New Hope. I helped plant the first crops and build the hoop house that’s still being used. The Micro-Farm grows food for the warehouse. The Food Group is a food bank that distributes food to food shelves.
Banner at The Food Group's Warehouse
I arrived at the warehouse just before 9:00 a.m. last Wednesday. When I went inside, I was greeted in a conference room by a staff member, who asked each of us COVID-19 screening questions. Once I passed the screening, I joined the other volunteers in chairs set several feet apart.
Kenny Niemeyer showed up just after me, my fellow AmeriCorps and roommate at the Habitat AmeriCorps fourplex. I hadn’t seen him in two weeks. We caught up a little before the session began.
Dan Johnson, the volunteer coordinator, cracked a few jokes to lighten the mood before going over the guidelines for our shift. This was their first volunteer shift under COVID-19 rules, so he emphasized the need for hand-washing and social distancing.
Then we washed our hands and headed into the warehouse, putting on gloves. Each person’s station was spaced at least six feet from anyone else’s.
Working along an assembly line, we packed boxes with packaged food (olive oil, canned peaches, bags of pasta). I taped the boxes shut, and Kenny stacked them on the pallet. Dan turned on the radio to a classic rock station, and we settled into a brisk pace.
Packed Boxes at The Food Group
Dan came over to clear some boxes and said he thought we were setting a record pace. I told Kenny, “I bet he says that to all the groups.” Kenny laughed. We talked about how we’d been trying to keep busy during the quarantine, him with cooking and baking, me with writing for my blog.
We talked about movies and TV shows we’d been watching. I’d been trying to limit my screen time in order to control my anxiety, but I finally got sucked in to Star Trek: Picard. (I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation religiously in high school.)
During lulls in our conversation, I sang along to the radio. It’s easy to get sick of classic rock when you work on construction sites, but that day I was loving every minute of it. It felt really good to be working with other people again, especially for a pressing need directly related to COVID-19.
We wrapped up the seventh and final pallet just before 11:00 a.m. At 20 lbs. per box and 70 boxes per pallet, we’d boxed 9,800 lbs. of food. At Dan’s encouragement, we gave ourselves a hand. He joked that it was a new record, since this was their first attempt at adapting to the coronavirus guidelines.
It was a welcome return to normalcy, even if for only two hours.