Health and Healthcare Systems

Meet the everyday heroes of the pandemic

Volunteers at the North Enfield Foodbank Charity unload donations for the foodbank in Enfield as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in London, Britain March 24, 2020.

Volunteers at the North Enfield Foodbank Charity in the UK unload donations. Image: REUTERS/John Sibley

Douglas Broom
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  • Volunteers are becoming heroes of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • In Poland, they are keeping hard-pressed medics supplied with coffee and lunch.
  • In New York, they are packing food for people who can no longer afford to buy it.
  • In Australia, a bookstore is delivering by bike to isolated people.

Amid all the suffering and anxiety caused by the coronavirus pandemic, volunteers across the globe are showing courage and resilience in helping some of the most vulnerable.

From keeping people supplied with basics during lockdowns, to helping the elderly and confused protect themselves, here are three stories of heroism during the crisis.

1. Feeding the hungry in a city under lockdown

New York City has the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, exceeding even those at the outbreak’s epicentre in China’s Hubei province.

Even in normal times, New York City has an estimated 1.2 million people who are short of food. City Harvest usually delivers basics to people who can't afford to buy food in five of the city’s boroughs. But the New York lockdown threatened to halt their vital work.

Volunteers pack food for families who can't buy food at City Harvest, who say they have seen a surge in the number of people who need their service due to the impact of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in New York City, U.S., March 20, 2020.
Volunteers pack food for families in need at City Harvest in New York City. Image: REUTERS/Aleksandra Michalska

Undaunted, volunteers are continuing to pack food for distribution, sorting fresh produce such as corn and cabbage - but working spaced out to avoid spreading infection.

"It's important to serve the community, to serve other people," one of the volunteers, Kent Gasser, told Reuters.

"And there's always a need."

Chief Operating Officer Jen McLean says she sees the number of hungry people growing every day.

“What I've seen is an outpouring of people wanting to help. I know we all feel the love right now. We just need to keep our distance so that we can get this food packed and out to people that are relying on it."


2. Delivering coffee and walking the dogs

Streets in the Polish city of Wroclaw are deserted as people obey instructions to stay home. But the calm is deceptive. In the city’s hospitals, medical staff are working flat out to help those suffering with COVID-19.

Volunteer Robert Wagner is delivering coffee, energy drinks, water and packed lunches to paramedics and doctors working overtime.

“We are trying to support medical professionals, working a dozen or so hours a day to protect us against coronavirus," he says.

After Joanna Cieslik's restaurant was ordered to close, along with all the city’s other cafes and restaurants, she decided to cook nourishing dishes and deliver them free to those most in need, including the elderly, sick and homeless.

“We organized crowdfunding, thanks to which we can deliver meals to the most deprived persons free of charge,” Cieslik says.

Marta Listwan created a group on Facebook called "Visible Hand" that coordinates volunteer efforts, including walking dogs for people who can't leave their homes. More than 17,000 people have signed up so far.


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3. Pedalling books to help people in quarantine

As the UN warns of the mental health effects of the coronavirus pandemic, one Australian bookstore has found a novel way of getting books to people in isolation.

With most shops closed and people self-isolating at home, Gleebooks is using a free bicycle delivery service to get books to customers stuck in their homes.

"Books are a nice way of travelling without having to go anywhere," says the store’s cyclist Nerida Ross.


"I think there's a lot of anxiety. People are pretty uncertain so they're just really grateful to still be able to access the things that give them joy, without having to leave the house," says Ross.

With many schools closed, the store is selling more children’s activity and craft books.

“We're learning a new way of being, and I think reading is a really big part of that for people."

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