Remote volunteer opportunities allow people to continue vital work—and to feel more connected during a time of isolation.

Syringes? Check. Clean needles? Check. Alcohol swabs? Check. Tourniquets, cookers and filters? Check, check and check. Lydia Strauss says a blessing for the harm reduction kit's recipient and carefully zips it closed. Her gloved hand places the bag to the side, nestling it next to the large pile of sterile syringes she has yet to pack. An assortment of vital supplies for 199 other kits cover her Worthington home’s dining room table. She leans back and smiles at the thought that the items are a drop-off away from helping others. 

Strauss, a sexual assault survivor advocate at OhioHealth, is one of the many Columbus volunteers who took their assignments home during the COVID-19 pandemic so they could continue their work while keeping socially distant. Like many others, she wanted to extend more aid to her community in a time of dire need for resources and compassion. 

“Whether it be items [for] harm reduction or the condom-packing project or a group of essential workers receiving a thank you note, you know that someone’s going to be touched by a project that you did at home,” says Strauss, 50. 

Though the pandemic made volunteering more challenging, many people have risen to the occasion and found remote opportunities to give back through organizations like Equitas Health, a nonprofit community health center for Columbus’ underserved populations. Most Equitas volunteers help build the organization’s harm reduction and safer sex kits, while a small group staffs its sexual health hotline and chat. That aid, volunteer manager Mark Spurgeon says, couldn’t be more valuable. 

“[Volunteer help] is absolutely critical,” he says. “Our staff could not, alone, meet the needs of the community without the support of volunteers.” 

Other Columbus nonprofits and initiatives that rely on donations and volunteers have also pivoted to at-home volunteer assignments. The Hattie Larlham agency, which provides training for people with disabilities, asks volunteers to send monthly cards to intellectually disabled adults through its Card Buddy program. Volunteer-coordinating organization Besa facilitates Zoom events where participants write encouragement cards for essential workers and bake desserts for survivors at domestic violence shelter LSS Choices. 

Choices volunteer manager McKenzie Houston says home-based volunteers have supplied almost enough personal hygiene care kits for the whole year. “That’s a huge thing for us especially because we rely on donations here,” she says. 

Patricia Reagan, 66, a retired Ohio State University professor, latched onto the at-home kit-making projects after the pandemic put her at risk. She understands how valuable her homemade contributions are to the shelter staff and its residents, especially. Thinking about the recipients makes her feel good, she says. 

For Reagan, Strauss and countless other at-home volunteers, the pleasure they get from giving back to the community makes it that much easier for them to navigate the pandemic themselves. “You feel like you’re making a difference. You don’t feel so isolated,” Reagan says. “The best way to avoid isolation is to help somebody else.”

Reprinted from Giving: A Guide to Philanthropy 2021.