The Silver Lining Among Clouds

Katelyn Willoughby

Katelyn is fired up about communication, marketing, business development, and working with diverse leaders in the North Bay to help them carry out their missions.

While it is easy to get discouraged, anxious, and fearful during a time like this, it can help to reflect on some of the good that is happening as a result of this crisis.

This week, we look at how this pandemic inspires people into giving back. Stories abound of neighbors helping neighbors, the increase of volunteers, and many people donating food, supplies, masks, and other needed items. This is true in our own county as well. 

CVNL + the Volunteer Center has seen a huge influx in volunteerism since the Covid-19 pandemic started. In Sonoma County, for example, hundreds of individuals are stepping up to fill urgent volunteer needs. When we post an opportunity, it is typically filled within hours.

As is often the case when a disaster strikes, such as the large wildfires the county faced in recent years, the number of people registering to volunteer through our volunteer portal exponentially increased, even while many of those same people have reason to be anxious about their own circumstances. 

More than half of the volunteers registering on our portal are new. Others have signed up to help as disaster volunteers in the past and are being communicated with and placed in volunteer positions where there is the most need. Two large volunteer populations that typically step up to help – seniors and students – are sheltering in place or learning from home. A large percentage of new volunteers are ages 25-50.

We believe several factors are playing a role in why people are stepping up now, including the public awareness campaign in the media for the need of volunteers; people feeling helpless at home and wanting to make a difference; as well as having more time, now that they are not working. Many people want to step up to help, but do not always know where to turn.

This is when an Emergency Volunteer Center (EVC) is critical in matching volunteers with community needs. An EVC is staffed by trained emergency personnel who provide volunteers a one-stop location to determine where help is needed.

When an emergency happens, the State of California makes a declaration and Emergency Volunteer Centers are activated through the county Office of Emergency Services and Emergency Operations Centers (EOC). The EOC is the central point where emergency services such as Police, Fire, etc. are coordinated. In Sonoma County, CVNL operates the Emergency Volunteer Center. They are currently activated in Santa Rosa and have established an Emergency Volunteer Center hub out of their office. Here spontaneous volunteers are guided by EVC members through a training process and ultimately to a productive support role. 

We hope that some of these new volunteers may continue to want to serve, even after this immediate crisis is over. 

We are trying to be forward-looking and focus on the positive. This pandemic has literally forced the world to ‘press pause.’ We’re inspired because we are seeing people use this time to re-engage in their communities, and nonprofits are collaborating in innovative ways to continue mission delivery. We also find that many volunteers continue to serve long after disasters ‘quiet down.’ There is a critical recovery phase following disasters where volunteers are needed to help rebuild community resiliency: most volunteers who sign up to help during the critical ‘response’ phase continue to serve during the recovery phase.

Even in the era of social distancing, we can still connect with our neighbors and offer support to those in need. Now more than ever, our communities need us to create change in ways that are both innovative and equitable. If you are unable to volunteer, consider donating to support COVID-19 disaster relief efforts. No matter how big or how small, any support you can offer is positive and impactful during these challenging times.

We’re in this together, and we are #strongertogether.


Note: photos taken are pre-COVID-19

In partnership with the Community Voice, Rohnert Park