Susan R. Madsen: Outreach during an outbreak

(Zak Podmore | The Salt Lake Tribune) A school district employee changes the notification board at Bluff Elementary School to announce a two-week closure related to the coronavirus outbreak on Monday, March 16, 2020.

March traditionally celebrates women. In addition to being Women’s History Month, March 8 was International Women’s Day and March 17 marked the 172 anniversary of the largest women’s organization in the world, the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But with the arrival of the novel coronavirus, celebration has been replaced by fear and isolation. As the founder of the Utah Women & Leadership Project, hosted at Utah Valley University, I know the power of women and girls in this state and believe that there is much good we can do while still staying safe.

In this time of crisis, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed as you may be trying to do work and/or school from home, keep your family safe, and time your trip to Costco to coincide with a new shipment of toilet paper. One way to fight feelings of powerlessness is to find meaningful ways to help. And nobody helps like Utahns.

Our research continues to show that when it comes to volunteerism and community outreach, we are literally number one. So let’s look at a few ways we can practice outreach during this outbreak.

Want to help girls around the world from the comfort of your home? Contact your local Days for Girls (DFG) representative. This global organization makes hygiene kits that make it possible for girls in many countries to attend school all month long. Have a stockpile of fabric for all those sewing projects you never got around to? Let DFG turn that old calico into mobility. Recently a colleague, her mother, and her daughters spent an afternoon assembling kits in their kitchen. She noted that everybody’s mood was lifted and her mother said, “That was better than a quilting bee!”

The largest at-risk group for COVID-19 is the elderly who have been urged to stay at home and reduce outside contact as much as possible. A wonderful way to support the elderly is Meals on Wheels, which delivers food at low or no cost to those who are homebound. You can donate money, help senior neighbors in need sign up or drive meals to homes. Prepared meal bags can be left on doorsteps and thus volunteer from at least six feet away. They also have “telephone reassurance programs” where you call seniors and provide contact and comfort without leaving the house.

With so many parents now without childcare and/or possibly finding themselves unemployed, it’s imperative that we help support the young population as well. In many Utah school districts 20-50% of all students qualify. And that was before the corona crisis. The Utah State Board of Education is providing free breakfast and lunch to any child under 18. If you find your pantry and bank account are running low, this is a great way to make sure your children are getting the nutrition they need. This map can help you locate the nearest school site where meals can be picked up. No proof of need is required.

Finally, donate blood and food. The Red Cross is facing a blood shortage due to cancelled drives. They have enhanced safety protocols for donors and potential recipients. Likewise the Utah Food Bank is in dire need of volunteers. They have shifted to ten or less volunteers at once, keep people spread out, and have increased facility cleaning.

It’s imperative that we reach out and support our communities during this crisis. Not only does it benefit those in need, it provides the volunteers with a sense of purpose and hope. As Eliza R. Snow said at the inception of the Relief Society, it was "not only for the relief of the poor, but the accomplishment of every good and noble work."

Susan R. Madsen

Susan R. Madsen, Ed.D., is the Orin R. Woodbury Professor of Leadership & Ethics in the Woodbury School of Business at Utah Valley University and the Founding Director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.