The line snaked around the block on a Sunday afternoon as Angelenos on foot and in their cars waited to receive grocery bags of pumpkin and tomatoes, multi-colored carrots, and freshly baked bread from two dozen volunteers, most of whom were young.
The food giveaway took place under makeshift tents in the Wood Cafe parking lot in Culver City, California, which has been closed since the pandemic began. Demetrios Mavromichalis, its owner, has teamed up with Natalie Flores, a city farmer and educator, to store and distribute high-quality excess organic and seasonal products in the restaurant, which are collected at local farmers' markets and in grocery stores, as well as from herb and vegetable seedlings Ms. Flores & # 39; gardens help people grow their own food.
They served over a thousand people, a number that has grown weekly since the pandemic began. Mr. Mavromichalis attributes the success of the program to the "dream team" of high school and college age volunteers.
"These amazing little kids are running the whole show," he said. “We sit back and they just take over. You have a better idea of how to distribute the food, how to keep the line moving, how to distance people. Your energy drives it; They are not micromanaged with adults telling them what to do. "
Mr. Mavromichalis' 19 year old son Nikolaos was recently named secretary of Nourish LA, the group that was created to run the company.
"It's just a thrill to see my neighbors again," he said. "It's not like a 'handout of food to those in need," "he said, explaining that they don't feel like they are" doing charity "but rather sharing food with neighbors and friends. "I want this to be the coolest, funnest thing to do, like a party."
Despite the optimistic spirit of the volunteers, the situation of many of the families they serve remains grim. A perfect storm of job losses, rising food prices and school closings, and the loss of subsidized school meals have created a "hidden epidemic of hunger in America," said Crystal FitzSimons, director of the Food Research and Action Center.
Food insecurity in the United States had doubled overall and tripled in households with children above the prepandemic, according to a report by the Northwestern University Institute of Policy Research, based on data from the U.S. Census Household Impulse Survey.
The institute's director Diane Schanzenbach said the latest available figures, released in mid-July, show that the situation has worsened somewhat since April.
This crisis has become noticeable for 14-year-old Maccabee Veder, who volunteers at the Wood Cafe every week. “Sometimes there are small children in the cars. It's sad to see how the pandemic has affected them and that they don't have enough to eat, "she said. "I even recognized someone in my class once."
Maccabee's contribution that Sunday was to put a long-stemmed flower in each grocery bag. She was joined by 9-year-old Kalea Jade, who said: "I don't just give food. I help to spread happiness and friendliness."
Research shows that volunteering has a number of benefits, including improving empathy, reducing the risk of depression, instilling a sense of purpose, and even improving physical health. Volunteering is of particular importance during the Covid-19 crisis and also one of the best ways to combat feelings of social isolation.
At a time of increasing political polarization, pursuit of others can renew a sense of common national identity and purpose, says Harvard developmental psychologist Richard Weissbourd, director of the Making Caring Common Project, an organization that promotes civic engagement among young people.
"We have a lot of Americans who are vulnerable and suffering right now," he said. "To the extent that we are all Americans, each of us is responsible for all of us. That is an attitude we want to cultivate in young people."
Dr. Weissbourd argues that the service expands the worrying circle beyond family and friends to "people who are different from you and whom you would not ordinarily meet". But he adds the caveat that one should serve others without condescension.
"What worries us about our work with students is that the service is being done for others rather than them and can be patronizing," said Dr. Weissbourd. "There has to be a mutual relationship in which one learns from them and also receives from them."
The coronavirus outbreak>
frequently asked Questions
Updated September 1, 2020
Why is it safer to hang out together outside?
- Outdoor gatherings reduce the risk as the wind spreads viral droplets and sunlight can kill some of the virus. Open spaces prevent the virus from building up and being inhaled in concentrated quantities. This can happen when infected people exhale in a confined space for long periods of time, said Dr. Julian W. Tang, virologist at the University of Leicester.
What are the symptoms of the coronavirus?
- In the beginning, the coronavirus appeared to be primarily a respiratory illness – many patients had a fever and chills, were weak and tired, and coughed a lot, although some people don't show many symptoms at all. Those who seemed the sickest had pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome and were given supplemental oxygen. By now, doctors have identified many more symptoms and syndromes. In April the C.D.C. added to list of early signs of sore throat, fever, chills, and muscle pain. Gastrointestinal disorders such as diarrhea and nausea have also been observed. Another tell-tale sign of infection can be a sudden, profound decrease in your sense of smell and taste. In some cases, teenagers and young adults have developed painful red and purple lesions on their fingers and toes – nicknamed "covid toe" – but few other serious symptoms.
Why does it help to stand three feet away from others?
- The coronavirus spreads mainly through droplets from your mouth and nose, especially when you cough or sneeze. The C.D.C., one of the organizations using this measure, bases its six-foot recommendation on the idea that most of the large droplets that people make when they cough or sneeze fall within six feet of the ground. But six feet has never been a magical number that guarantees complete protection. For example, sneezing, according to a recent study, can trigger droplets that are far farther than two meters away. It's a rule of thumb: it is best to stand six feet apart, especially when it's windy. But always wear a mask even if you think they are far enough apart.
I have antibodies. Am i immune now?
- As of now, this seems likely for at least a few months. There have been terrifying reports of people appearing to be suffering from a second attack of Covid-19. However, experts say these patients may have a lengthy course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may only last in the body for two to three months, which may seem worrying, but that's perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it is highly unlikely to be possible in a short window of time after the initial infection or make people sick the second time.
What are my rights if I am worried about going back to work?
The opportunities for these types of interactions have diminished at a time when social distancing requirements are limiting our contact with others. However, the limitations have not prevented some young people from finding indirect ways to help.
When sports at Acalanes High School in the San Francisco Bay Area were canceled due to the pandemic, Owen Estee called his friend Zach Appel to suggest that they offer lacrosse lessons to interested teenagers and donate their fees to the White Pony Express, a local group that delivers food to community organizations that serve the hungry. Zach thought of his grandmother, who was scared of leaving her house and needed people to go out and get her food. "I've noticed how many people are like that and maybe we can help them," he said.
The two 15-year-olds started Lacrosse Against Hunger, which has raised over $ 3,000 to date. "After the pandemic, we want to involve the rest of our team and open a lacrosse camp to keep raising money to buy food," Owen said.
In Columbus, Ohio, 9-year-old Aggie Barrington visited a homeless shelter with her mother. The child was upset that people were not there to eat hot meals together, as they had before the pandemic. "I said, 'Mom, can we please help," recalled Aggie. During dinner the family talked about it and decided to make burlap and take her to the shelter. Aggie shared her idea in a video appeal that was in the social media.
Over 500 families have joined since March and 12,000 lunches have been delivered to the shelter. These efforts are coordinated by the Columbus-based nonprofit Seeds of Caring.
"Maybe we're young, but we can still be powerful, although some adults think we can't," said Aggie. "Children are beginners in the way the world works," added their mother, Molly Barrington. “But they have enormous hearts full of passion and compassion to serve others. We adults have to catch that again. "
The future of our democracy may depend on restoring this ethic of mutual caring, says James Youniss, professor emeritus of psychology at the Catholic University of America in Washington. He participated in a 2007 study that found students involved in high school service projects were more likely to volunteer and vote in greater numbers later in life.
Dr. Youniss said he wished more schools had well-designed mandatory service requirements to educate young people about the needs in their communities and instill a lifelong habit of getting involved.
"There's something bigger out there than yourself," he said. "It's not just about going to a good college – it's what I can be as a person, what I can contribute."