SALT LAKE CITY — Since the COVID-19 pandemic first started impacting Utah communities, we have seen many of our neighbors suffering from great need.
Fortunately, there are others among us with a great need to help, and a handful of people banded together online to connect those groups for solutions.
It’s called the Salt Lake Valley COVID-19 Mutual Aid group.
The loose-knit online group connects people in need of support due to the COVID-19 outbreak to those willing to offer help and support.
“It’s really been a totally grassroots community-led effort,” said Shandra Benito, who moved from Seattle to Utah several years ago.
When the pandemic hit here she saw people in her former community connecting online to help each other with childcare, housing, shopping and other emergency needs.
That inspired her to float the idea on Facebook, and she got a tremendous reaction.
“A bunch of people responded, and, it was so beautiful,” she said.
Approximately 15 people organized their ideas online and quickly got the project moving with setting up Facebook groups, a Twitter account and a webpage.
“It’s not surprising to me that it would take off so well in Utah because I think that we live in a place where people really care about their neighbors,” said Benito.
Now more than 250 trained volunteers, like Jana Treasure, are helping.
“Mostly, I’ve just done grocery shopping and delivery for people that aren’t able to leave their houses because they are high risk,” she said.
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Treasure volunteers to help with those deliveries two or three times a week while still working full-time.
Staying busy, she said, helps her manage the stress of these unusual times.
“So, if I can stay busy and be helpful at the same time, that’s helpful for me, and other people,” she said.
At their website, people can request help with errands, or, even a one-time emergency cash payment of $50.
Others can volunteer their time and errands, or do logistical work from home while self-isolating.
Generous online donations keep the mutual aid going.
Benito said the Salt Lake Valley COVID-19 Mutual Aid Group has received more than 1,700 requests for assistance so far, and one-third of those are in Spanish.
The mutual aid group has completed more than 1,000 of the requests, representing more than $80,000 in funds that have been redistributed through these connections, she said.
“I think so many of us feel kind of helpless in the face of this virus, and I think that part of how we deal with that is feeling like there something we can do,” said Benito. “Feeling like there’s something we can do for our neighbors.”
Volunteers are trained in safe sanitation practices and given cleaning supplies to use for themselves and on the groceries they are delivering.
“People are getting it,” said Benito.
“I think it just goes to show the generosity and care that our community has for one another.”