Helping Your Community Through a Pandemic
words by Clean State campaigner Rachel Rainey
Myself and the rest of the Clean State team have been seeing the same waves of kindness and compassion displayed in the Australian community in response to the COVID-19 crisis as we saw in response to the bushfire crisis. To help make the most of your enthusiasm, I’ve put together a list of ways that you can make a tangible difference to your community.
1. Stay Inside
I say this with the understanding that many of you are working in roles that are vital to the health and welfare of our nation and have no choice but to leave the house for work. Thank you so much for the daily risks that you are taking to protect our community. For those of you that have the privilege of being able to work from home, or who have had the misfortune of losing their job, please stay home. In Western Australia we have done a magnificent job thus far of keeping the transmission levels low. To continue to do that, we must stay inside wherever possible, leaving only to get groceries or essentials and to exercise. This is by far the most important and impactful thing that you can do to protect your local community from COVID-19. The virus can present itself with little to no symptoms, so it is often best to act as though you are carrying the virus so that you don’t risk unknowingly transmitting the disease.
2. Physical Distancing
If you must go outside, it is important to respect physical distancing regulations. To clarify, that’s staying 1.5m away from other people when outdoors, and 2m away from people when indoors (just over one trolley away when you’re grocery shopping).
Those are the basic measures that will likely be legally enforced over the coming weeks and months. If you want to do more and go above and beyond for your community, read on:
3. Help your neighbour / household / local business
How to best help your community is a tricky one. Is it better to knock on your elderly neighbours door to check on them and see if they need anything, or to stay the heck away from them in case you infect them with a potentially fatal virus? I’m faced with this very issue at the moment. I have been trimming my rosemary and lemongrass and intend on distributing the excess produce to my neighbours along with some spare toilet paper rolls and a note with my phone number and an offer of further assistance if needed. I will need to sanitise the items that I drop off and avoid touching doorbells, door handles or railings with my hands. As I have been working from home, I am a fairly low transmission risk for my neighbours in comparison to those working in healthcare or in a grocery store.
It’s important to maintain social connections with your community, even as we take a step back from each other physically. Reach out to your friends, neighbours, family, colleagues or local charities and just check in on them. A lot of communities have developed mutual aid groups, based on the concept that our wellbeing is dependent on the wellbeing of our community and that our best chance of coming out of this strong is to help each other wherever possible. Maybe you could form a mutual aid group with the other residents of your street or apartment complex.
It is possible to continue to support local businesses in this crisis. I have been buying my groceries from a man that sells local produce out of the back of his van at the beach on weekday mornings and have been streaming local musicians non-stop. You can also order restaurant or cafe food to be delivered so that you can continue to support your local brunch spot without actually visiting it.
4. Finish “that” Project
How many of us start something and then don’t finish it? Don’t underestimate the value that working on something for yourself can have for the rest of society. I was born in a country that benefited enormously from the art, poetry and music created when people were stuck inside with little else to do (except that was because of torrential rain, not a virus). So finish that project, whether it’s a veggie patch or a knitted scarf or learning to play the guitar. You’ll be surprised at how much pleasure other people will take in listening to you practice your music, seeing your artwork or reading your updates on social media.
At the risk of contradicting myself, don’t take your project too seriously. Pure boredom will drive you to productivity and creativity without any actual goal setting. I have found myself planting a veggie garden in my dad's backyard, my worm farm is flourishing and I am tearing through my reading list. If you put too much pressure on a hobby, you risk turning it into a chore and no one wants that.
5. Donate (it doesn’t have to be money)
Certain sectors of society have already been disproportionately affected by this pandemic. Some people are at a higher risk of losing their job, others would suffer more severe symptoms if they were to contract the disease and others are at a higher risk of contracting the disease in the first place. It is worth reaching out to not-for-profits that offer support to First Nations groups, aged care, homeless groups, or other vulnerable groups and seeing what it is that you can do to help. Often it is as simple as requiring more funding, but if that is not an option for you there may be other ways that you can help. I would encourage you to check with them before you turn up with physical donations that they don’t have the people or resources to deal with to see what they need and what hygiene practises they currently have in practise. During the bushfire crisis, many charities were inundated with donations of clothes and other goods that often came as more of a hindrance than help.
You may wonder what we are doing as a campaign team during this crisis, and I’m happy to let you know. As soon as the legislation came out requesting that all events are cancelled, we started working from home and we moved all of our events online. Our campaign has absolutely been affected by this working style. I’m missing being able to go to events with a little Clean State stall and talk to members of the public about our campaign. Without those events, it’s been really hard to reach beyond our existing supporter base. Our team is in constant communication with one another but it’s not the same as being in the same office and for those of us that live alone, it’s been a little lonely.
I am incredibly grateful that the Clean State team has been assured that our employment will not be affected by the pandemic. This allows us to continue advocating for clean and just solutions to the climate crisis. We have always had a focus on clean job opportunities, but now we are looking at how clean solutions can aid our society in a social and economic recovery from the pandemic. We have had to stay incredibly vigilant, as fossil fuel companies are exploiting this pandemic to try and sneak their damaging projects through approvals processes.
As individuals, members of the Clean State team are participating in various forms of mutual aid in a number of different ways. For all of us, this means working from home and practising physical distancing. Some of us are going a step further and running free online yoga classes, bringing food and medical supplies to those in quarantine and sharing garden produce with neighbours.
I absolutely understand the challenges that people are facing in these pressing times. My mum has a respiratory condition and works in a hospital. She’s been told that it’s only a matter of time until all of the staff are exposed to COVID-19. Many of my friends have lost their jobs in hospitality. My grandmother is eighty years old and living in the United Kingdom. I really value face-to-face social interaction and I’m struggling being stuck at home with only my sister for company, attempting to communicate with my friends, family and workmates over blurry video calls. And I’m one of the lucky ones. I still have my job, I have a reliable place to live, I have internet access, I don’t have to worry about homeschooling or finding childcare for children and I can access the outdoors without coming into contact with other people. It’s important to recognise your limits and to take care of yourself or you will burn yourself out trying to help other people.