COVID-19 CRISIS

'Grassroots' effort seeks to connect volunteers with residents in need

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As the ongoing public health crisis continues to upend daily life in Cranston, it will be particularly difficult for the most at-risk and marginalized members of the community to cope.

“They’re going to be the hardest hit by this,” Ward 3 City Councilman John Donegan said Monday.

In an effort to help, a new push for volunteers – modeled on similar initiatives in Providence and other cities and towns – is now underway.

The “Cranston COVID-19 Community Aid” survey being circulated on social media seeks to “connect neighbors who are at risk during COVID-19 with volunteers to help.”

Donegan described the survey as taking a “real grassroots, community approach” to the situation. It is driven by members of the public and is not officially affiliated with the city, he said.

The survey is focused on aiding residents with limited means or specific concerns – those who are immunocompromised, for example, and fear heading out to pick up a prescription due to their higher risk of complications from the novel coronavirus.

It asks those in need of help whether they require donations of food or basic home supplies, delivery of groceries or medication, transportation to medical appointments, assistance navigating social services, or someone to lend a hand in some other way – even simply to talk to or check in with. Prospective volunteers are asked how they would be willing to pitch in.

“I’d go pick up zeppoles for someone on Thursday if they ask for it,” Donegan said with a laugh. “We’re just trying to look out for one another.”

Donegan said he has helped to organize the effort along with others from the community, including Dana Holmgren and Kate Aubin. As of Monday, he said, nearly 40 people had responded to the survey – two seeking help and the rest offering to contribute. He has communicated with people who have filled out the form seeking assistance and will work to connect them with volunteers.

A link to the survey can be found on the Cranston Herald’s Facebook page and on Donegan’s page.

Donegan said he has been heartened by the outpouring of community spirit in the days since the COVID-19 crisis escalated locally, from teachers offering to tutor students while school is closed to restaurants seeking to feed those in need.

“I see it at every level, people are stepping up to this crisis … I think people are answering the call, and that’s encouraging,” he said. “I’ve heard more from people reaching out to want to help people than from people reaching out for help.”

Elsewhere, on Tuesday, the United Way of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Foundation announced the creation of the “Rhode Island COVID-19 Response Fund.”

“The fund will support the needs of local nonprofits that provide direct service in the community, and whose programs are impacted by COVID-19 response efforts,” a press release regarding the fund.

Already, $1.5 million has been raised for the initiative, with United Way and the CVS Health Foundation identified as the leading donors. Other corporate supporters include BankNewport, Amica, Bank of America, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Centreville Bank, FM Global, Hasbro, National Grid, Webster Bank, StrategicPoint Investors, and Neighborhood Health Plan of RI.

Donations to the COVID-19 Response Fund can be made at uwriweb.org/Covid19Fund, by check, through a United Way MyFund account or other donor advised fund, or by texting RICOVID19 to 51555. The full press release regarding the fund and other United Way initiatives appears in this week’s edition.

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