A group of Islanders are volunteering to help out their neighbors.
Many people have been posting on social media offering to assist homebound seniors, the self-isolated immunocompromised, and all those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now there is a list of folks on Mercer Island ready to be called upon for help with various errands and tasks.
Any Island senior or at-risk person with a need can email email@example.com to be linked with someone who will assist them.
Debby Fry Wilson created the group after witnessing many Islanders online saying they would happily help with grocery shopping, dog walking and other deeds.
“People are being incredibly generous and it shows the spirit and kindness of Mercer Island,” Wilson said.
But she quickly realized there was no real system in place and then got to organizing one. She knew that without some sort of coordination, it would be difficult for those who need the help to find it.
She brainstormed how to bring everyone together and created a sign up sheet where anyone wanting to help could list themselves as a volunteer with their name, services offered, times of availability and contact information.
The sign up sheet — which she had originally allotted 25 spots on — filled up almost immediately and was followed by many more requests to join. She extended it to include a total of 65 community volunteers, and that is where it is currently capped for now (despite at least 50 additional people expressing interest) as it is a manageable number.
She said the sentiment is overwhelming, and the numbers do not include the countless others who have been posting about wanting to help in other discussion threads of their own.
Wilson’s team uses a private Facebook group to communicate and coordinate. She serves as the gatekeeper, a go-between matching needs with volunteers while protecting people’s privacy. She also follows up at the end of each errand to make sure it all worked out well.
She said she has been busy setting everything up and managing everyone, and their process will continue to evolve as they grow and different community needs arise. She said eventually they might switch to a larger platform with new ways to manage requests.
“We have this engine now that we can activate as needs become apparent,” Wilson said. “This is absolutely evolving and as things keep changing I assume we’ll change how we’re operating.”
She said almost 100% of all people who initially reached out to her and the group were those wanting to help rather than those needing the help. So they were working on ways to reach those who need assistance, particularly since they may not all be present on social media.
Friends helped share their effort with their Island contacts, and the news spread to more people. Wilson said they started getting folks wanting help with groceries and the like. She hopes they will get more through word of mouth.
Wilson said the group operates completely on the honor system. It also is not affiliated in any way with the city — it’s just community members coming together on their own.
“This is genuinely grassroots, neighbor to neighbor,” she said. “Mercer Island is a community that deeply wants to support and give and genuinely help out our neighbors.”
She said she is trusting everyone to use best practices like social distancing and proper handling of food. Some community members have been great at offering suggestions for those preventative measures, she said.
Volunteers are encouraged to wear gloves and try not to touch much of anything. Groceries are dropped off on people’s doorstep so there is no contact with recipients whatsoever.
Wilson’s daughters have been participating, too, delivering groceries and helping neighbors. Both are graduating seniors — Mackenzie of Loyola Marymount University and Natalie of Mercer Island High School. Mackenzie is home with the rest of her school canceled and no commencement ceremony. Natalie likely won’t have a prom or other events with the end of her high school experience, Wilson said.
She said assisting the community is a great way for them to stay positive and do something productive with their time, actively helping others in the community.
“It’s wonderful to be able to have them help,” Wilson said. “This is a great way to take all their energy and us as a family help make someone’s life a little easier on the Island.”