At 50, he is listening to his own advice. Dr. DeHart volunteers with international medical teams in Vietnam, typically two trips a year. Often he also takes his wife and children with him to help. “When I come back I’ll feel charged and ready to get back to work here,” he said. “The energy it gives me reminds me why I wanted to be a doctor in the first place.”
I see my personal volunteering rewards as cosmic electricity – with no “off” button. The good feeling stays with me all week – if not the whole month.
When is it safe to resume volunteering?
I think about my options. The park has some outdoor opportunities that are all about cleanup, but I lack the interaction that lifts me up. I’m tempted to go back to the grocery bank because even Charles Dinkens, an 85-year-old who has volunteered next to me for years, has returned after eight months. “What else should I do?” he asked. The homeless shelter does not yet allow volunteers. Instead, people are asked to pack lunch at home and drop it off. Oh, they are also looking for people to “call” virtual bingo games for residents.
Virtual bingo just doesn’t float on my boat.
To be honest, there is no single way to safely volunteer during the pandemic, said Dr. Kristin Englund, a doctor and infectious disease expert at Cleveland Clinic. She suggests that volunteers – especially those over 65 – stick to outdoor options. It’s better to be in a sheltered space where the public doesn’t move, she said, because “every time you interact with a person, your risk of developing the disease increases.”
Dr. Englund said she would consider taking dogs outside for a local animal shelter as a safe option. “Although we know that people can pass Covid on to animals,” she said, “they are unlikely to be able to return it to you.”
In the meantime, my next annual physical appointment is in January. I was wondering if my labs will be as spotless as the last round. I have my doubts. Unless, of course, by then I have resumed some kind of personal volunteer work.
Last year an elderly woman who lived in the homeless shelter pulled me aside to thank me after I served her lunch of tomato soup and a turkey sandwich. She put down her tray, took my hand, looked into my eyes and asked, “Why are you doing this?”