Even before the city extended the shelter-in-place order until May 3, a group of strangers on NextDoor noticed the proliferation of offers and requests for help with everything from shopping to pet care.
We “assembled and thought we could create a system to help harness all of this volunteer energy and match those people with people in the community who are in need and might not know about different resources that are available,” said Megan Demit who, along with Madeline Su, Becca Grubman and Rahmin Sarabi, created the SF Community Support website.
“We have only met at a social distance… and lots of Zoom calls,” she said. Demit, who does fundraising at Save the Redwoods League, a nonprofit focusing on the conservation of redwood and sequoia trees, said that she is hoping to meet her co-founders “in real life” in the near future.
The SF Community Support website has forms to fill out for those who want to volunteer and those who need help. And to ensure the services reach everyone — and not simply those connected and on NextDoor — volunteers have been going door to door to post their fliers.
They can help with immediate needs like grocery runs, prescription and package pickups, and dog walking and pet care. They also offer social wellbeing support through one-on-one phone calls and check-ins, and virtual tech support.
“These are just some of the things that we want to offer to the community and volunteers could write in our forms what they’re interested in providing,” she said.
Demit said that they now have more than 400 volunteers signed up throughout the city.
“This is just the beginning of this effort,” she said. Demit said that they have been practicing no-contact deliveries and social distancing, as well as making sure that all their volunteers have no symptoms of COVID-19.
“We are consulting with a couple of medical professionals we found through NextDoor and Facebook to craft safety guidelines” for our volunteers to follow, she said.
Neighbors can send a request through the group’s website and, once SF Community Support receives it, they find volunteers in the same neighborhood who can fill the request. They usually receive requests two to three days in advance, which gives them enough time to match with volunteers and complete the errand.
Requesting neighbors reimburse the volunteers for money spent on groceries, medications, or supplies through various money transfer options. In some instances, Demit said, that they may be able to pay for groceries and supplies for those who do not have “financial stability to meet their own needs because of this crisis.” Beyond that, they do not charge for doing the errands or providing support.
“Some people are very willing to provide more information about their situation, whether they have lost income and need help paying for groceries,” she said. “Or they’re an elderly couple who’s worried about going out and putting themselves at greater risk. So we do get a little bit of information about the person’s situation.”
But with limited funds from donations, they are also encouraging neighbors to contribute and “help pay for food or supplies for someone in need” through the website.
She said that they are posting more fliers around neighborhoods to reach more neighbors.
“We haven’t had a ton of requests so far, but just [on Monday] we’ve noticed an uptick of requests from people,”
Because they focus more on the more immediate need, Demit said that they provide contact resources of other organizations and nonprofits to neighbors whose broader needs they cannot serve.
“More people are needing help as the quarantine continues,” she said. “We’re glad that people are adhering to [shelter-in-place] policies and we’re happy to help out when we can.”
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