Voluntarism during COVID-19: different, but impactful

Even during social distancing and masks, the UD community is still making an impact in the city of Dayton. Photo of Dayton skyline courtesy of Wikimedia.

Lucinda Judd

Contributing Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way individuals and the University of Dayton can volunteer to assist the most vulnerable of the community when tragedy strikes in any form.

Prior to the pandemic, Campus Ministry’s Center for Social Concern had partnered with 11 organizations to help with aiding homeless people in the area. Student participation in volunteering for this cause has dramatically decreased because of COVID-19 guidelines and UD’s advice not to leave campus. 

Ella Glabus, president of St. Vincent de Paul’s UD conference and a junior in the business school, said about 10 to 15 students would volunteer in a normal semester.   

“Normally we would just be going to volunteer at all the shelters in the area and we’d be linking up with the local St. Vincent de Paul conference,” Glabus said. 

Because the Center for Student Involvement cannot have in-person meetings Glabus decided to find other ways to aid the community, such as taking up collections for blankets, and St. Vincent de Paul has trained members of the club to take calls from those in need.  

“It’s a little bit hard to do,” Glabus said. “We did the training over zoom. It’s been hard to get motivation but we have the training for it.” 

Glabus said the multiple St. Vincent de Paul conferences in the area have increased call taking to assist with issues like a need for electricity, childcare or even furniture deliveries. 

UD has a long history of helping and advocating for Dayton’s unhoused individuals. Since 1989 UD has held eight sleep-outs on campus designed to help students understand the plight of people forced to sleep outside. Students spend the night in a designated area on campus for one night.

Nick Cardilino, associate director of the Campus Ministry’s Center for Social Concern, said that sleep-outs can have a draw back.

“My concern about those events, those sleep-outs, is that sometimes — and it certainly isn’t all the time — but sometimes they create in students a sense of ‘Oh, I know how it is to be homeless now,’” Cardilino said.

Cardilino said that  the Center for Social Concern has partnered with Dayton organization Homefull to offer that opportunity to a small number of students.  

Outside of UD, the Dayton-Kettering Montgomery County Continuum of Care also known as the Homeless Solutions Policy Board has continued to implement their 10-year plan to reduce homelessness in spite of the global pandemic.

On the fourth Tuesday in January, the board conducts its “Point-in-Time” count of people without shelter. Volunteers track the number of people in the county who are in shelters or using their cars for shelter.

In the 2020 P.I.T. report, the number of individuals was 642 in 536 shared households. According to the report this is the second highest number of households in the past ten years and shows a 10% increase.

The P.I.T. report from 2019 showed that the number of individuals counted that night was 577 in 475 households.  

The Homeless Solutions Board says the numbers are only estimates because volunteers will miss people who might get temporary shelter at a friend’s house and those in wooded areas. 

To meet the increased numbers of those without housing, St. Vincent de Paul has asked for PPE, including donations and respirators for those volunteering at the shelter.

During this crisis, we remain fully committed to our mission to feed, clothe and shelter anyone coming for assistance. We are open 24/7, 365 days a year, and no one is ever turned away,” said a statement on St. Vincent de Paul’s website from April 1, 2020. 

As the season grows warmer, people will still need shelter. As the world saw in Texas mid-February, the weather can come as a severe surprise.

Dangerous thunderstorms frequently hit the Dayton area, and tornadoes can strike. But homeless people have few, if any, options to protect themselves. 

Strategic plans are in place for helping those in need during dangerously cold weather, but the Homeless Solutions Policy Board does not list a plan for other severe weather circumstances.

Cardilino said he has suggested that UD open its doors to become a semi-permanent or permanent shelter during the academic year but the university is unable to meet that suggestion.

“The only exception they have ever made was with the tornadoes two summers ago, and that was because it was in the summer, and so they had housing available,” Cardilino said.

Cardilino said that about 50 families stayed in the Irving Apartments after the tornadoes of 2019 but during a semester a lack of space and risk management issues gives UD reason to pause. Cardilino said he is sure that if another freak weather incident occurs, students would volunteer to help with clean-up or whatever a community partner requested.  

Glabus plans to do more in-person volunteer opportunities next semester and to organize a call center night, where students sit down and assist St. Vincent de Paul by answering the community’s needs. No matter how seemingly minor an opportunity is, volunteers have continued to do what they can, and hope to increase their efforts next semester.

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