Suddenly nervous, I put on a medical mask and gloves. As I pushed a shopping cart filled with bags of takeout dinners across the sunlit parking lot, I couldn’t help but question myself: Is this safe? Is this mask helping? Am I overreacting? Under reacting? Should I be doing this? Overwhelmed, I paused to take a slow deep breath and then stepped forward to distribute the meals.
I had wipes and hand sanitizer on my cart, offering them as reassurance to community members as we distributed the meals. Some people used them, while others seemed a bit confused as to exactly what was going on. Frankly, I felt a bit confused too. How had the community I thought was so safe been turned so completely upside down with the COVID-19 virus and a worldwide pandemic?
On March 9, 2020, with the announcement of three COVID-19 cases in Ohio, my life and the lives of all Ohioans were forever changed. By Friday, March 13, all Ohio Schools were shut down, and businesses began to temporarily close. Soon after, a stay at home order was issued, and only essential businesses were left open. Ohioans were strongly encouraged to remain in their homes with immediate family members, leaving only for daily outdoor exercise and trips to the store for essential items. We were also asked to wear masks and maintain a physical distance of six feet from each other.
I am a forty-year-old suburban mother settled into my middle-age lifestyle with a peaceful heart. I work part-time, run for fun, raise four daughters with my husband, and volunteer in our hometown of Euclid. In February, I transitioned into a lead volunteer role at the Soups On Community Meal Mission with East Shore United Methodist Church.
Over the years, this mission has fed fifty to one and fifty hundred community members a hot meal each Wednesday evening from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. This work has brought me great joy and reminded me of the fresh-faced eighteen-year-old girl that I once was, the girl who had big plans to join the Peace Corps and help others in big ways.
As it does for all of us, however, life intervened and changed my course. I fell in love, and solo plans for the Peace Corps were no longer at the top of my list. Graduate school, marriage, parenthood, and a new life in Cleveland — just like that, I had changed my life plan.
It’s a life that I cherish. In the quiet spaces, though, when I have a moment to remember who I was before the addition of these five perfectly imperfect people who fill my world, I sometimes wonder. Am I doing enough to remember that eighteen-year-old girl and her dream? The dream of helping people?
Now, my work at the Soups On Mission has suddenly taken on a new purpose. More members of our community are in need of assistance, and the members we were already serving have stronger needs. In recent weeks, a number of our volunteers, many of them over sixty, have chosen to isolate and stay home. A skeleton crew of five volunteers remains.
Each week, we don our masks and gloves and provide to-go meals and donations of food items. We do our best to keep ourselves and the community we serve safe by working in shifts and limiting the number of people in the building to just a few at one time, striving to keep six feet between us. We wear gloves and masks as another layer of protection for ourselves and the community members. Fortunately, we also have an abundant supply of hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes, and soap, further helping us feel safe and secure.
The nervousness I felt during my first week of volunteering during the pandemic has subsided. Today, I feel peace and confidence in the safety measures we are taking. My heart is full after seeing the smiling faces of so many of our grateful community members.
Sometimes, the small voice in my head still whispers The Peace Corps, just as it did over twenty years ago. Today, though, in the here and now, I find myself in a country torn apart by a pandemic virus. And I’ve discovered that rather than helping in the Peace Corps in a far off country, I can help others right where I am. As sad and frightening as this time is, I can do something small to help and at the same time find my way back to what I have always felt called to do.
If you or someone you know is living in or around Euclid, Ohio, and can benefit from a weekly hot meal, please visit East Shore Methodist Church online for more information on the Soups On Mission. Nearly every community has a similar program or a local food pantry accepting donations and serving the needs of people nearby. It’s a helpful reminder that in times of global crisis, the best service we can provide is likely close to home.