Jewish Tidewater Volunteers: Your value as a volunteer is priceless

April 30, 2020

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Looking to stay safely connected to real human beings while quarantined? Helping others is a good way to survive and add new meaning to your life.

United Jewish Federation of Tidewater recently launched an initiative to meet urgent needs imposed by COVID-19’s disruptive impact on daily life. Jewish Tidewater Volunteers seeks caring volunteers to reach out to people who are lonely, alone, and hungry, but don’t know what steps to take to make that connection.

Worry about things out of your control can be reduced by activities such as cooking, tinkering, meditating, biking, or connecting with someone who craves human contact. Knowing you flipped a switch and brought light back into someone’s life, even for one minute, can produce the same kind of feeling you get from a great workout at the gym.

Ronnie Jacobs Cohen gets up every day before 6 am to walk on the boardwalk before going to work at UJFT. Due to current conditions, she misses interacting with her co-workers at the Federation and taking a break during the workday to meet her sister Babbi Bangel at the JCC gym for a treadmill workout.

With extra time on her hands, Cohen joined the recently founded COVID-19 Sewing Taskforce of Hampton Roads.
Distribution centers are located on porches and in garages of host homes throughout Tidewater. The diverse group of volunteers led by C. J. Robison has donated 9,300 masks to area hospitals and medical settings including Beth Sholom Village. With the help of recruitment rock star Stephanie Calliott, the number of volunteers went from 30 to 1,200, including 25 from the Jewish community.

Cohen joined the group as a cutter. She picks up Halyard material donated by area hospitals to make masks that can be sterilized and re-used. She took on an active role working at the site close to her home, cutting masks, wire, and yarns, and delivers to area healthcare and physical therapy facilities.

“Making a real difference in the safety of our front-line workers has inspired me and hundreds of other volunteers to be a part of something greater than ourselves,” says Cohen. “The timing couldn’t have been better for me personally. This is such an inclusive group of selfless people, appreciative of every effort who graciously recognize your important work.”

Anna Walsh, LPN, is assistant director of Nursing for the Berger-Goldrich Health Care and Rehabilitation Center of Beth Sholom Village. “Every one of our employees must wear a mask per CDC and Virginia Department of Health Guidelines. We feel strongly about protecting our residents—that’s our primary focus,” says Walsh. “We are so grateful to receive the masks made by the volunteers and our staff loves the colorful patterns. You can tell someone put a lot of effort into this and that means a lot.”

Jewish Tidewater Volunteers augments UJFT’s effort to raise money to help agencies like Jewish Family Service and Beth Sholom Village, and individuals through the Emergency Relief Fund.

“You don’t have to spearhead a new program or commit a lot of time to answer our plea. We just need a lot of people who are willing to do a little. There are so many opportunities for people to get on board, even from their own homes,” says Barb Gelb, director of development for UJFT/Simon Family JCC, and coordinator of the program.

“For example, people can make friendly phone calls to people who are isolated, or those with special needs whose daily routines who have been completely disrupted,” says Gelb. “We need help delivering meals and other necessities to people who can’t leave their home. Those who want to help can sign up on a simple form on the website and we will match preferences and availability with the agencies’ needs.”

Layoffs, furloughs, and more children at home put an extra weight on the shoulders of families. The food pantry at Jewish Family Service is in dire need of everything. Food insecurity is a very real issue today.

Initiatives such as Jewish Tidewater Volunteers and the COVID-19 Sewing Taskforce of Hampton Roads provide an outlet for people who want to do something and are willing to explore new ways to step up. “These dining rooms have never seen so much activity,” says Calliott, referring to the massive amounts of raw materials strewn on dining room tables belonging to volunteers from every background who have become overnight skilled workers.

“These people are incredible. I always liked them, but after working with them on this, I love them.”

Additional ways to volunteer include frontline staffing (and childcare) at BSV, helping with prescription deliveries, and video and telephone chats with those who are isolated. Jewish Tidewater Volunteers will show you how to do it, where to go, or what is needed to make the difference you can make now.

To learn more about urgent needs and paid opportunities, as well as ways to help, or be helped, contact Ronnie Jacobs Cohen at 757-321-2341 or rcohen@ujft.org or go to JewishVa.org and click on Jewish Tidewater Volunteers.

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