What a week we’ve endured as life has changed drastically in the Mahoning Valley. Social gatherings have disappeared in the hopes that the coronavirus might be contained.
So how do you write a “5 to Do” column when local theaters are closed, concert sound systems are silenced, movie theaters are dark, sports are benched, bars have announced last call and restaurants are limited to processing takeout orders? (If your paycheck has not yet been impacted by the shutdown, locally owned businesses need our support like never before. When you can, place an order and consider a generous tip. We want our favorites to be there when we celebrate the end of social distancing.)
Here are some thoughts for those longing to maybe get out of the house (for a little while).
The Mahoning Valley is blessed with Mill Creek Park and its many trails. As spring arrives with warmer temperatures, it’s not a bad time to explore what Mother Nature has to offer — in responsible numbers and giving other nature hikers plenty of space.
Another option is volunteering. Heaven knows, there has never been a problem called "Overdose of Volunteers."
Opportunities are many. For instance, many churches have projects staffed by volunteers, like food pantries.
What you often find at church projects is that many of the volunteers are retirees, those who in the past 10 days have been deemed part of our most vulnerable population. A dose of younger blood during this unusual time could make a big difference to these groups.
On Thursday, Operation Blessing at the Canfield Presbyterian Church had its monthly food distribution with a new system in place to protect the patrons and the volunteers distributing food. Normally, patrons come into the church to get processed. Then their food is put into grocery carts and taken to their cars.
Because the church is closed, Julie Kercher, Operation Blessing director, revised the distribution policy. The most-veteran volunteers were asked to stay home as a safety precaution. This time, patrons remained in their cars. Volunteers processed their paperwork then messaged those inside the church how much food to bring to the car.
Not knowing what to expect, the new plan worked better than expected. Although all but about five bags were distributed, there was no traffic backup during the four-hour availability.
Several patrons expressed thanks to volunteers, explaining how important the food bags are to their families. One woman hugged a loaf of bread and said it’s been so long since she tasted a slice. Unless ordered to stop, Kercher said Operation Blessing plans to distribute food in April.
Another volunteer option is to contact the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley. The shutdown hasn’t stopped United Way employees and volunteers from reaching out.
Tuesday, dozens connected to the United Way pitched in at Second Harvest Food Bank in Youngstown. Some bagged apples. Others helped the regular volunteer crew on the assembly line fill boxes to distribute to those in need.
Some of the United Way crew normally work with students in after-school programs. With schools closed, they found another way to make a difference.
The American Red Cross continues to collect blood. As of Tuesday, at least 220 blood drives in Northeast Ohio had been canceled because of the pandemic. That has created an unprecedented blood shortage. The Red Cross has beefed up its capacity at blood drives. The need is great. To find a drive near you, visit the website RedCrossBlood.org or call 800-RED-CROSS.
Finally, reaching out can be as simple as dialing your phone. The Rev. Don Christensen, retired minister at Canfield United Methodist Church, said many residents at retirement homes are confined to their rooms and unable to receive visitors.
His recommendation is a short phone call from friends and family to brighten residents' days.