Community Volunteers Step Up to Support Pandemic Response

When the novel coronavirus pandemic upended Americans’ daily lives in March, Great Falls resident James Ye turned to a 110-year-old organization for guidance: the Boy Scouts.

Now a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Ye joined Boy Scouts of America Troop 55 when he was in fifth grade and has since accumulated about 1,000 hours of community service.

Ye says the values espoused by the Scout Oath and Law, which include volunteering, were on his mind when he saw a Facebook advertisement seeking volunteers for the Volunteer Fairfax Donations Collection Warehouse.

“During national historic crises, Scouting organizations have always jumped into action, sort of helped out in emergency response,” Ye said. “…I think the coronavirus is another example of a historic national disaster, and being a Scout, just doing your duty to your country, I wanted to be a part of that.”

Led by the nonprofit Volunteer Fairfax, the warehouse is Fairfax County’s hub for organizing masks, food, and other resources for community organizations as part of its COVID-19 emergency response.

At first, Ye mostly helped Volunteer Fairfax emergency response manager Tejas Patel maintain an inventory of the donations passing through the warehouse, but his duties later expanded to include greeting and contacting donors, doing research, and sharing content on social media.

Ye, who amassed 190 service hours at the warehouse, is one of thousands of local community members who have contributed to Fairfax County’s pandemic emergency response as volunteers.

Fairfax County reported on Oct. 6 that close to 3,000 volunteers have collectively spent 96,006 hours since Mar. 17 helping various county services, including the police and fire departments, public libraries, and Domestic and Sexual Violence Services.

In addition, more than 1,000 individuals have signed up for the Fairfax Medical Reserve Corps, which assists the Fairfax County Health Department in emergencies. With 521 volunteers now onboarded, 233 people have contributed 4,392 volunteer hours since Mar. 1, doing everything from managing medical supply donations to assisting at community testing sites and back-to-school immunization clinics.

“The Northern Virginia region in general has a vast and reliable base of volunteers covering all ages, ethnicities, and a wide range of talents,” Volunteer Fairfax CEO Steve Mutty said by email. “When an emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic hits, spontaneous volunteering (especially by individuals) goes way up.”

Mutty says the Tysons area tends to be a consistent source of group volunteering due to its concentration of corporate offices, whose employees are frequently encouraged to volunteer.

With many people working remotely during the pandemic, many companies have shifted their philanthropy to virtual, socially distanced activities. The Tysons-based consulting firm Portals Global, for instance, donated 15,000 KN95 masks to Fairfax County in July.

Volunteer Fairfax has over 20 partner agencies in the Tysons area and nearly 2,300 individual volunteers registered from Tysons zip codes, according to Mutty.

Donations of masks and other kinds of personal protective equipment (PPE) have become a popular way for community members to join Fairfax County’s pandemic response efforts. As of Oct. 6, Volunteer Fairfax had collected more than 20,974 masks for adults and 3,345 masks for kids.

When he was volunteering, Ye noticed that many of the masks donated to Volunteer Fairfax’s warehouse came from local businesses and individuals, including people his own age.

“If every person sort of does their part, then I think that makes it easier for all of us,” Ye said.

While the demand for PPE is still high, the two top requests for support that Fairfax County gets are for food and rental assistance, Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik says.

Compared to the county’s other districts, Providence is in the middle of the pack when it comes to the need for emergency support, accounting for about 45 requests for food assistance and over 100 requests for rental assistance in August alone.

Palchik’s staff has been regularly visiting different neighborhoods to collect donations for the food pantry Food for Others. The county also held two Stuff the Bus food drives in September that brought in more than 27 tons of food that went to 10 local nonprofits.

However, the need for help remains urgent eight months into the pandemic.

Fairfax County Coordinated Services Planning, which directs residents to social services, saw a 200 percent increase in its call volume during the last week of September compared to that same week in 2019, according to Palchik, who encourages people to support local food banks with direct monetary donations if they have the means.

Volunteer Fairfax is coordinating donations and volunteers for Fairfax County’s COVID-19 emergency response through

“These are very challenging times,” Palchik said. “While there’s a lot of need in our community, I think it’s just enlightening and heartening to see we are all coming together and supporting each other, and we’ll get through this as a community.”

Photo via Fairfax County Government Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery

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