LOS ANGELES -
The Instagram page for the COVID-19 Messengers volunteer network is filled with pictures of smiling faces. Clicking on one of the photos brings you information that often includes where that person lives, what services they provide to those in need, how far they are willing to travel, as well as their contact information.
These individuals are known as “messengers,” and they are donating their time and energy to run errands and perform tasks for those who may be unable to due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the services include free deliveries, prescription pickups and grocery runs. Many of the messengers are careful to note whether they are traveling by car or another method, and some indicate their preference to leave deliveries on a doorstep.
The COVID-19 Messengers program was organized by Emmalyn Sullivan, a 26-year-old New York City resident, and quickly gained traction.
“The news has been a lot, and the way social media perpetuates fear and anxiety was affecting me and people around me — so I went out of my way to only make positive posts related to COVID-19, like acts of kindness, good places to donate, how to get soap into prison, not ignoring whats happening but trying to highlight the humanity that’s all too often overlooked by the media, especially with outbreaks,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan noted that all of her original responses were entirely supportive and that she believes being able to complete small tasks for other people is helping those volunteers to cope emotionally and stay sane.
“It truly wasn’t difficult at all to gather volunteers, people jumped on board right away,” Sullivan said. “Because of my life and work, I was able to use my own network to begin outreach, and it really snowballed from there. The simple act of sharing really acted as the foundation of this network. Small things can feel very big in a climate like this.”
Others have lent their professional services in support of the messengers’ initiative. Sullivan said that a graphic designer named Greer is handling imagery, while a profesional named Kara built the website and covered labor/domain costs. One messenger in particular has been creating and selling women’s garments and giving the profits back to Sullivan. Miranda, one of the first messengers, is a strong sounding board “for all ideas big and small.”
The organization’s Instagram page highlights messengers in different states across the U.S. as well as parts of Canada, Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom. Many have praised the messengers for their acts of goodwill.
“I’m avid in keeping everyone happy, healthy and safe, continuously asking for feedback of users of the network on both ends, be it a messenger or someone requesting a delivery (and just the average follower’s options as well),” Sullivan said. “I’ve received multiple messages saying that I have saved someone’s life. That is such a huge and heavy thing.”
“It really is a double-edged sword, but that was a good thing. Some people are getting the help they need and and some people are getting to offer what they’re able to. It’s a beautiful little ouroboros.”
As COVID-19 Messengers has grown, Sullivan says that she and her team have evaluated how to best provide services while being fully cognizant of health and safety concerns, as well as social distancing guidelines. She said the volunteer organization issues the following guidelines for anyone who wants to give or receive help from their network:
-Do not enter houses, apartments or cars of individuals you don’t know.
-Wear gloves and a mask.
-Bring a friend if you are nervous .
-Have your phone on you, confirm number of recipient.
-Don’t deliver too early in the morning or too late at night at your discretion. If emergency late night drop-off is required, bring a friend if possible.
-If you have concerns about “cat fishing” don’t hesitate to ask for photo identity confirmation: exchange selfies holding paper that says “COVID-19,” for example. The safety of both parties is paramount.
-Bring Clorox wipes with you and wipe down packages thoroughly before dropping off.
For those receiving assistance:
-Wash hands before and after delivery.
-Wear gloves and mask if possible when making contact.
-Practice social distancing.
-Don’t be afraid to ask for more assistance. Messengers might be on a tight schedule but there is NO HARM in asking. Need someone to pick up prescription? Need groceries? Ask. The same messenger may not be capable, but we will try to help you get the assistance that you need. You are not a burden. Your safety is a priority.
The program is still in its early stages and is not yet available in every U.S. state, but those who want to learn more can sign up to receive emails from the group at covid19meessengers.com or by visiting the COVID-19 Messengers Instagram account.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.