As trying times hit, one local organization is helping us to love our neighbors.
A little less than a year ago, the Love Our Cities movement of Modesto recognized a need in the Valley that extended far beyond the reach of the city-wide community service days it helped organize each year. In collaboration with the City Ministry Network, comprised of local faith leaders, Love Our Neighbors was born, giving those looking to give back the chance to do so by connecting them to volunteer resources. The site (www.loveourneighbors.org) also serves as a place where community members in need can come for help, and is funded by United Way of Stanislaus County in alignment with the county’s Focus on Prevention initiative.
“We realized especially here at home and in our own county, there were some things that we really wanted to focus on,” Love Our Neighbors program director Eric Jung said. “This was a response to not only engage the faith sector, but to have a place that can push people towards great volunteer organizations that we as a community can get behind.”
The website is simple: there are options for those who want to donate monetarily, and even different choices for community members who want ongoing volunteer opportunities or would like to help just once. Volunteers can choose from a multitude of sectors where help is needed, including administrative, education, encouragement, manual labor and people in need.
Although Love Our Neighbors has been around since June 2019, the cause has seen a significant boost in volunteerism since the coronavirus pandemic hit home in early March. Love Our Neighbors launched a special COVID-19 response page on its website, where 260 volunteers have since signed up to work in local food banks and to go shopping for the elderly and other at-risk community members who may not be able to go to the grocery store.
Those in need of assistance due to the pandemic, whether it be with shopping or the inability to pay for food, can also sign up for help on the website. As of the end of March, 230 people have used the website to request help.
“When stuff started happening, we thought, ‘How do we as a community respond to this?’ We landed on homebound seniors and people who are most vulnerable to the virus, or people who may not have transportation and can’t get to the grocery store areas,” Jung said. “Those are the most affected people we wanted to make sure are being taken care of, even from a food scarcity standpoint.”
Many volunteer-based nonprofits have been hit the hardest by the pandemic and are in desperate need of volunteers, Jung explained, as those who typically donate their time are retired seniors looking to give back. With the 65-and-up crowd self-isolating, volunteers are dwindling at nonprofits vital during these times, like food banks.
In an attempt to help with this issue, Love Our Neighbors also provides volunteers with a map of food banks in their area where they can help hand out necessities. The cause works with nonprofits throughout most of the 209, from Manteca and Oakdale to Turlock and Patterson.
The local community’s response to the crisis has been inspiring, Jung said.
“One of the good things about this crisis is that people are sitting at home going stir-crazy with nothing to do. Volunteering is like a respite for them,” he said. “The community has all hands on deck. They’ve really wanted to be a part of this and see how they can help, and right now they have the time and ability to do that.
“It’s been cool to see the community come together and collaborate the way they have.”
If you are looking to volunteer or are in need of help, visit www.loveourneighbors.org for a list of resources that can be utilized both during the coronavirus pandemic and after.