Boxes For Life is keeping volunteerism alive during the pandemic

Afya’s customizable programming makes volunteer work accessible

February 24, 2021

By: Marissa Roberge, Social Media Intern

Afya’s volunteers have come out in support of medical professionals and their patients in a big way these last 10 months. Corralling volunteers during a global health crisis sounds like an impossible task, but you may be surprised by how hungry people are for volunteer opportunities.

Studies show that there tends to be a spike in volunteerism during times of crisis. LinkedIn reported that in 2020 volunteer activity amongst members in the US was more than twice that of 2017. Beyond charitable motivation, there are real health benefits to volunteering that could be causing this surge. Benefits cited by the Mayo Clinic include: decreasing the risk of depression, staying physically and mentally active, reducing stress levels, and providing a sense of purpose. This is particularly noteworthy right now when we are socially isolated and the CDC reports that a third of Americans are experiencing anxiety or depression.

Afya’s Boxes for Life program is making it possible for people to create volunteer opportunities that are safe, accessible, and tailored to their community’s needs during the pandemic. During this group service project, volunteers organize large boxes of assorted medical supplies such as gloves, gauze, and tape. The sorted material is then delivered by Afya to healthcare facilities impacted by Covid-19. The best part is that the sorting process can take place anywhere (at home, in schools, or in community centers)! Plus children as young as 4-years-old can sort material and volunteers can spend just a few hours or up to a few days on the project.

A great example of this is the Riverdale Y, a Jewish Community Center located in the Bronx, that in just one day sorted 2,000 pounds of medical supplies. The Y chose to work with Afya for their MLK Day of Service event in part due to the growing consciousness in the Riverdale community regarding healthcare.

“They’re mindful of mask-wearing, they’re mindful of sanitation and sterilization, and they’re mindful of the medical needs that exist in their own communities,” said Director of Community Engagement, Rabbi Joseph Robinson, “It was eye-opening just to open a box and see this random assortment of medical supplies that needed to find its way to a community.”

The event on January 18th looked different from the Y’s previous MLK Day events that typically draw close to 400 volunteers. The Y limited the number of people who could sign up but managed to accommodate 52 families, roughly 150 people over the course of the day. Volunteers were split into three different shifts and spread out across tables in the Y’s multi-purpose room to abide by social distancing parameters. Robinson played music and designated hype men and women to get the group excited about the work from a distance.

All of the hard work paid off.

“It was challenging. That being said, you know, people were ecstatic. They were really grateful,” said Robinson. “They’re like, this is amazing. All this stuff is going to be donated? This is great and wonderful and I had a hand in helping.”

It’s not just the Riverdale Y making a difference. To date, Afya has distributed over 195 boxes of about 10,000 pounds of medical supplies to nearly 300 volunteers. These volunteers have included three young men from Irvington’s National Junior Honor Society who sorted six boxes of medical supplies. The ninth-graders enjoyed the experience so much that they signed up for a second session of sorting.

Volunteers also included 81-year-old Ken Cohen. Ken is the father of Afya’s Development Consultant, Perri Cohen. She encouraged her father to volunteer. “The winter has been long and hard for both my parents, but especially him as he is very vulnerable to Covid,” said Perri. “I suggested this as a way to keep him occupied while giving back. I figured this type of work would be fun and uplifting for him.” To date, Ken and the friends he recruited have generously sorted 400 pounds worth of medical supplies for Afya.

The work of Afya’s amazing volunteers allows us to continue to improve global health by providing access to medical supplies in underserved and compromised health systems worldwide.

Community engagement may look different this year, but the Riverdale Y and all of Afya’s supporters have proven that even in the middle of a pandemic we can still come together for a good cause, make a difference, and have fun while we’re at it.

If you’d like to organize a Boxes for Life sort of your own, check out our volunteer page for more information!

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