“The need doesn’t go away”: UMD students turn to volunteer work during pandemic

A long line stretches outside of the College Park Church of the Nazarene on the morning of Sept. 5, 2020, as people wait to receive food. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

By Abigail Russ
For The Diamondback

Despite the coronavirus pandemic looming over the fall semester, some University of Maryland students are still finding ways to give back, volunteering in local communities both virtually and in person.

Some organizations on the campus require their members to earn a certain number of hours serving the community each semester, such as the National Residence Hall Honorary or service fraternities. And some students have found ways to volunteer on their own.

Jaanavi Selvaraj, a sophomore animal science major, volunteered at the Manna Food Center over the summer.

“The need doesn’t go away [during the pandemic], if anything it increases, so they need more volunteers during this time,” Selvaraj said.

The food bank has been working to ensure that its volunteers are staying safe during the public health crisis. All volunteers are required to wear masks and wash their hands, and Selvarak uses a paper towel to shut off the water tap when doing so.

[UMD students volunteer as poll workers during early voting at Xfinity Center]

Sophomore Katy Clugg and junior Claire Jacobs found volunteer opportunities relating to the presidential election.

Clugg, a criminology and criminal justice and government and politics major, is flying home to Illinois to serve as an election judge.

“I know that there’s so much confusion right now going on about, you know, what can disqualify your ballot and about if your ballot’s really going to be counted,” Clugg said. “I think just being able to kind of direct people in the right direction and help them get to have their voice heard is really important.”

Clugg has also spent time volunteering by serving as a peer mentor for College Park Scholars and helping her neighbors during the pandemic. Her neighbors have a higher risk of contracting the virus, she said, so she volunteered to go grocery shopping for them.

[Maryland athletes prepare to volunteer at Xfinity Center polls on Election Day]

For students interested in virtual volunteering opportunities, there are many resources available.

Students can volunteer through organizations such as Zooniverse, which allows volunteers to participate in “online citizen science” and research projects, according to the organization’s website.

If students are interested in working with information accessibility, they can transcribe historical documents and biodiversity data for the Smithsonian as a digital volunteer.

Organizations such as Link Generations also offer opportunities, allowing students to write letters to members of older generations to help combat social isolation, something particularly relevant amid the pandemic.

Jacobs, a biology major, volunteered to encourage Americans to vote by texting voters and writing postcards for 2020 Victory, a group connected to the Democratic National Committee. Before beginning, she had to undergo a virtual training program and pass a quiz.

“It’s important, because like, there’s a lot of people like that need that assistance right now,” Jacobs said of her volunteer work. “There’s so much going on in the world that you feel like even if you’re not part of it, you still have to like, do your part to make it better.”

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