How can you best volunteer?

David Brooks writes:

If you know someone who lives alone ask them to join NextDoor, which is Facebook for neighborhoods. It helps them stay in touch with those right around them. Vital in a crisis.

I am not familiar with that project, but I would trust David’s judgment in such matters.  How else can people volunteer usefully, especially if they do not wish to leave their homes?  Keep in mind that useful volunteering is also a good way to keep people occupied and at home!

Please do leave your suggestions in the comments.  if nothing else, even “placebo volunteering” could be highly worthwhile.  I will put up some of the best ideas in a later post.


I distinctly remember seeing a tweet from Paul Graham saying he was waiting for the immunized 'warforce' to come together in the coming months. It all depends on what the virus does after you have recovered. hoping our immune system will create a deterrent, perhaps the best volunteers are the ones who have already contracted?

Not only is asymptomatic spread happening in around 50% of the cases, things like this keep occurring.

TOKYO — A Japanese man who apparently recovered from the coronavirus two weeks ago has again fallen ill and tested positive, public broadcaster NHK reported on Sunday.

The man, who is in his 70s, first tested positive for the virus on Feb. 14 while onboard the quarantined cruise ship, the Diamond Princess.

He recovered and was discharged from a medical facility in Tokyo on March 2, NHK reported. It has been standard practice in Japanese hospitals to demand at least two negative tests before releasing patients.

He then returned to his home in Mie prefecture in central Japan by public transport.

But he came down with a fever of 102.2 degrees Thursday, NHK reported. He went to hospital Friday, took a test and was shown to have the virus Saturday.

I heard Covid-19 is hard to diagnose, perhaps this JP man had the virus all along?

Why are we guessing? He had at least two negative tests. That means a re-infection is the most likely explanation. Nobody says you get automatic immunity from all coronaviruses just because you got it before. In fact there's more than one strain out there so it shouldn't surprise anyone.

True but these tests were just invented so those numbers don't exist yet. When I lack information, I err on the side of caution. I imagine most do the same.

The website is one of the best we have found, and the How can you best volunteer?
article is very well written and useful!
I want to share with you a link that also helped me a lot in cooking:
Thanks and kisses! :)

China also reported 2 cases of 'reinfection', but given the denominator it is clearly a rare occurence. Measles has also been observed to re-infect on occasion, but so rarely that we assume people with a history are immune.

Dangerous assumption.

It's been a pretty safe assumption for a long time, with measles at least.

If you have the coronavirus, please visit everyone in your neighborhood. This helps develop herd immunity and will allows us to beat this pandemic. This is backed by start of the art British science and the UK government is seriously considering it.

Great for everyone except the people who die when the hospitals are flooded with critical cases. But hey they're old anyway, may as well save on the gov pensions, no?

And after covid-19 has run its course, those neighbors can all go to Red Lobster together.

Not a bad choice of restaurant about 30 years ago, when I visited it and they still had crab and lobster. In the over-fished Philippines they serve farm raised shrimp (mostly from China, Vietnam), bangus, a brackish water fish that's surprisingly good, and the awful 'talapia' a bony inferior fish. Be happy you have Red Lobster (TM) while fish still exist.

I don't know if such a platform exists, but if you're furloughed or working from home and know family or friends with kids out of school, consider offering them electronic, one on one tutoring, Sal Khan style.

I agree. We can also offer more random aid to the general public. Just about everyone can answer a question somewhere on stack exchange..

(My advice for people with kids is to get them a new puppy and don't worry about it. Anyone really.)

Just about everyone can answer a question somewhere on stack exchange..

Well, that’s the dumbest thing I’ll read today. I would say “let’s not ruin stack exchange for no reason” but since the site (thankfully) won’t let randoms post without getting upvoted helpful comments first, I’ll just go ahead....

And mark this as duplicate, question already answered

Apparently first I need anonymous to post how to close HTML tags.

I’m the idiot, I read this as StackOverflow.

In my defense I’ve been quarantined for over a week.

Quick off the mark to shit on positive ideas were you?

You are still debating the virtues of hand washing, even though you (hopefully) suggest that anyone that comes in contact with you wash their hands?

Tyler thanks for opening this up. A friend of mine started a site to triage help and resources in metro Detroit. He’s aggregating food banks, churches and educational resources so people can give / ask for help in a way that’s managed remotely. I think it’s important to remember that we must remain diligent in not volunteering live in ways that might accelerate viral spread. The project is

Would it be possible to help older folks with limited computer skills order groceries for delivery?

A related idea would be to help them buy anything online. Perhaps helping them setup a kindle and link it to the local library? That might not work, I know that my grandmother was never comfortable enough with technology to use a Kindle even when she loved reading novels and her eyesight was deteriorating.

I’m not sure I would recommend NextDoor. From my experience looking at it over the past week (and I’m sure it varies neighborhood by neighborhood), it is filled with misinformation and aggressive arguments about closures and panic-shopping. Not particularly useful.

That seems to align with how I see the Next Door platform typically be used: as a gathering place for mildly-racist NIMBYs to complain about crime and organize against housing development.

It's a venue for know-nothing panicky busybodies to get all up in your business. No surprise that David Brooks is a fan.

Wait a sec, you don't trust David Brooks?

No, no, no -- anyone who has been on nextdoor for any length of time knows that it is *the* premier spot for reporting coyote sightings and identifying "What was that boom???"

Hey, I appreciate the coyote sightings (cat who goes out part of the day) and all other wildlife-related, and I love the boom posts, closely followed by what's that weird smell posts.

Last year, someone posted a "wolf" sighting (this is suburban Chicagoland) that kicked off a lengthy coyote vs wolf vs dog debate that got surprisingly heated, complete with Sasquatch-style blurry photo evidence.


They see "coywolves" and "supercoyotes" here quite a bit. On a thread about a skinny old mountain lion in the church preschool parking lot, someone piped up that they had seen a jaguar in the greenbelt. (They did not, but I like the attempt to will a more interesting world into existence; and no one contradicted her.) To be fair, the coyotes vary in size. The state's last gray wolf was shot fifty years ago, but they've found red wolf DNA in coyotes. A ranch foreman who has killed dozens of coyotes told my husband with utter sincerity that the game camera had caught a chupacabra, but it turned out to be a mangy coyote. The old trickster.

It was probably a chupacabra that got killed and eaten by a momo, leaving no evidence to settle the matter.

I got into a “5G towers are going to kill us all” debate, posting links to several studies showing no clear dose-response to mmWave radiation. I asked for anyone who disagreed with me to please link me to research that proves me wrong because I was genuinely interested if I had some bias. The only person that responded (and this was in a thread with 100+ comments of people jabbing at each other) was a woman who linked me to a site about chemtrails.

That about sums up NextDoor to me.

Agreed. Nextdoor is a cesspool for surveillance fanatics and scared old people complaining about 'urban' looking young men walking down the sidewalk. Not to mention yet another service cynically geared towards slurping up all your personal information.

Here in Denver it's been very positive. I live in an ethnic neighborhood made up mostly of Asians and Latinos. No NIMBY-ism or racism or wild speculation.

Please everyone stay safe. We are all in this together!

Because I have two addresses I belong to two NextDoor neighborhoods; I'd say that the experience generally reflects the neighborhood. One of my neighborhoods is dominated by busybodies and folks trying very hard to make political points without violating the NextDoor prohibition on politics. Typically these two groups end up in hot debate with each other. There are a lot of lost pet postings, which often lead to found pets, which everyone seems to agree is a good thing (though some can't resist pointing out that it's the owner's fault to begin with that they let their cat/parakeet/reptile outside to begin with).

The other neighborhood posts almost exclusively about bear sightings and recommendations for various services (vets, fencing, grading, roofing, telecoms, etc). And - yes - this week lots of posts about helping out elderly neighbors with errands.

As Spandrel posts , there are posts about helping out elderly neighbours. One has to take the positive posts with the other ones.

I would suggest video chat, if it's already set up, and just calling people you know regularly if it's not. Setting up a habit of routine communication with people you care about can be very reassuring.

I'm giving music lessons to my mother, after sending her a melodica for her birthday.

May I recommend the Jurassic Park theme as particularly suited to the melodica?

Here is my modest contribution to the placebo cure for Covid-19 efforts. White is Covid-19 as represented by a chess playing computer engine, while Black is humanity as represented by Ray Lopez. Covid-19 has the edge as it is higher rated.

Covid,19 (2100) - Humanity,RayLopez (2000)
For the Win, 15.03.2020

1.a4 Out of 200k games in the Fritz database no games played with this wing opening, I'm not even sure of the name? - RL 1...d5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 Nf6 4.Ne5 e6 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.g3 Bd6 7.Be3 strange anti-positional move that blocks the e-file; that said, this kind of weird bishop move is increasingly popular in modern chess due to PC analysis showing it can be played -RL 7...0-0 8.c3 Re8 9.Bg2 Ng4 10.Bc1 e5 11.0-0 e4 12.h3 Nf6 13.Bg5 h6 14.Be3 Bd7 15.Na3 Qc8 16.g4?! incredibly, this is the losing move for Covid-19. Strange, as it doesn't look that bad, and at the time I, representing humanity, did not think this pawn push was losing, though I could tell it played into my K-side attack. -RL 16...h5 17.Nc2 hxg4 18.hxg4 Nxg4 19.Bg5 Re6! True story: I was at a Greek BBQ (among friends, since there's a ban on public gatherings in GR) and I was drinking red wine when I made this move after about 10 minutes thought. It's a rook lift and I'm very proud that Fritz engine kibitzer also thinks it's about the best move; my second best move, which is about the same, was Nf2, which transposes to the line played. I played this game at a near blitz or rapid pace (game in about 30 minutes). 20.b3 Covid-19 is lost, -400 centipawns in favor of Humanity. The rest of the game is capitulation by the virus. 20...Rg6 21.Qd2 Nh2 22.Rfe1 Bh3 23.f4 Qg4 Covid-19 resigns, as it's a forced mate with best play in 13 moves. A fine game and valuable contribution to humanity. In this game the poor choice of opening and one ill-advised move by Covid-19, no pun intended, the king-side weakening move 16. g4? was enough for Humanity to win. 0-1

Please donate blood if eligible. Blood banks are critically short as they are overwhelmingly dependent on corporate drives in many areas. I am one of those (of many) dependent on transfusions occasionally and got informed yesterday even though it was time under the old qualifications there wasnt blood available and so qualifications were lowered even more as to what was in need of transfusion

Buy gift certificates from your favorite restaurants to help keep them afloat while nobody is going in

This doesn't always work. The GC may be operating by a third-party and the restaurant might only get the cash when redeemed.

Volunteer online tutoring. Schools and libraries have to clear you through a database and you may have to fill out forms.

If you are clean, no problems.

Part of the problem will be keeping the kids engaged.

This is not a free-range neighborhood: if kids have free time, music lessons, sports practice, lacrosse into the late hours, tutoring, rock band camp, brain balancing, handwriting camp!, Coding for Grrrls, etc , would soon fill it, and the long habit of closely supervising them means that most have spent far more time indoors with a screen than outside - so I've enjoyed seeing the bouyant packs of boys ten through fourteen or so, liberated from school; their travel plans that would have kept parents sane over the break, cancelled; roaming the neighborhood and running through the stores, laughing at the pandemonium. May be their first taste of such freedom. They are savvy enough to know this thing seems not to touch them - no shadow of my mother's lifelong fear of swimming pools and physical contact with strangers.

I noticed last night the port-a-potty on the playing field had been turned over.

That was a real world comment.

Donate your computer resources to finding a vaccine/treatment for COVID-19. Folding@home is a distributed computing platform for simulating disease-related proteins that researchers can't directly observe. You download their client, and a portion of your CPU or GPU is used to help simulate the virus, how the virus binds to human cells, how potential drugs can prevent virus binding/replication, and probably other uses I'm unqualified to speak to. Folding@home typically works on a host of other diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's, but right now they're focusing on COVID-19 (as you do these days).

Download it here:

If you start the client and your browser keeps refreshing, OPEN THIS URL IN AN INCOGNITO BROWSER:

Workaround found here:

News release about some proteins developed using Folding@home, for further research by biologists worldwide:

**Repost from March 13 in thread "$1 million plus in Emergent Ventures Prizes for coronavirus work"

Sign up for your computers to help - not my area of expertise but your computers' unused brainpower while you're not using it helps scientists run simulations to understand the virus.

More info

As the individuals being hit hardest by the virus are also the least digitally connected we should be setting up community based telephone systems to coordinate grocery and medicine deliveries for the elderly. Heavily advertise the phone number to reach these networks on local TV programs. Possibly produce short videos suitable for the evening news detailing, for an internet naive population, how to set up prescription/food deliveries through Amazon/Walmart/CVS/Walgreens etc.

Crowdsource incentives for confirmed recovered individuals to take over vital jobs (which may now include Amazon warehouse worker/delivery person).

Learn how to use multi user FaceTime or Hangout or whatever other group video service you choose to keep your small social groups together and check up on each other.

In the volunteer space, and in order to keep people engaged with the outside world, talk to your public radio or tv station or historical society about cataloguing their audio or video collections.

You can do the archive cataloging project remotely. Also, there is a lot of literature on how you organize groups remotely to tackle projects together.

I think it is a bad idea to recommend individual, scatter-shot volunteering. There are no shortage of civic and religious organizations in the U.S. They have combined centuries of experience in organizing volunteering opportunities. Work through them -- they are connected to their communities, they know what their communities need, and they can do things at scale.

Volunteering for online teaching is probably the worst idea. Simply point students to the numerous online resources that already exist. I don't see how some random dude is going to be a better teacher than those who have been thinking and practicing online teaching for the past decade.

Perhaps the best volunteering you can do is to counsel kids to be patient with their parents.

For disasters requiring famine relief, there are books that will teach you how to cook and serve lentils and rice in a 55 gallon drum.
Should there be a pamphlet that tells you how to set up a neighborhood triage ward and isolation unit? So far we are being encouraged to rely entirely on professionals who are about to become unavailable.
The huge risk is that an amateur relief center in this case can do more harm than good.
It would be nice to see a convincing explanation of how to do it safely, or a convincing argument that it can't be done safely. My guess is that there are a large group of people who might be willing and able to take this on, e.g. ex-military, or people have done first aid training but let it expire.

Also useful would be instructions about how to run a temperature checkpoint like the ones people have to go through in China.

Information is crucial. Group texts, NextDoor, TV, MR. Whatever. So many things to figure out - How is entire country going to work from home tomorrow while watching their kids?

Encourage people in service sectors living paycheck to paycheck to use gofundme or the like so they can keep food on the table and the lights on. If they are in nonessential discretionary jobs like restaurants and hospitality they probably won’t get many hours. If they need to show up, like grocery store workers or amazon warehouse workers, they will need more money to address issues like unexpected child care needs.

Then whose of us with salary work need to donate.

Unfortunately, Facebook is a disreputable company that daily compromises your privacy.

How to volunteer in November if Covid-19 is around, to 'get out the (to) vote?" Or will they 'temporarily' postpone the US elections (note it's not in the Constitution that elections be held in November, only a 1790s federal law, which Congress can always--at a political cost--overturn)?
Perhaps the registrars will relax the onerous ID requirements needed to vote (as a perpetual traveler in the 1%, I've not voted in years since it's too difficult to do so, though I have influenced elections by giving money to candidates; I gave Joe Biden $10 the other day and gave given thousands to other candidates)?

We live in interesting times...

As the dad of two teenage girls for whom school will be canceled, I'm working with the local PTA to set up teenagers to volunteer their babysitting to parents who are forced to work while their kids are home. One sitter per family, to decrease social contacts as much as possible.

I just check my Nextdoor which has 61% of the 518 households near me engaged. The most recent dozen posts are people volunteering to run errands and such for their neighbors. Until this week, all I saw was pretty much lost pet posts and nail salon recommendations.

Call your local senior center and ask what they need?

I know foodbanks need volunteers. With the cancellation of school, there will be more mouths to feed. Also, give blood.

The premise of this blog post, that volunteering is especially valuable during a pandemic, is likely wrong. Think of volunteer effort as analogous to “government” command and control, but where the individual is doing the commanding and controlling over his own resources. That is, the individual diverts resources from what he knows to be his own interests in favor of the interests of others. The potential problem with this noble impulse is that individuals can typically assess their own interests far better than they can those of others. Even under ideal conditions, there is a real potential for waste. In a pandemic, many people are panic stricken and not thinking clearly. Their ability to assess their own best interests can be impaired, and even more so for the interests of others. Is “volunteering” to recruit more users for Facebook really the best use of one’s time? We’re social animals, and we feel a need to help the tribe, especially when it’s in crisis. But helping oneself is a help to the tribe, and probably the most effectively targeted help. The pandemic is forcing a temporary shift from labor to leisure, but that shouldn’t be confused with a shift in the optimal allocation of leisure relative to more normal times.

Spend more time with family and friends. “Social distancing” is a misnomer—it means less physical contact, not less social contact. Tell them you love them, by phone, email, or video. Read those books you’ve been meaning to get to. Learn a new skill you didn’t have time to invest in before to improve your productivity later. Get some projects done around the house. Don’t worry so much that you aren’t doing enough to help others in this crisis. In helping yourself, you’ll be guided as if by an invisible hand to helping others.

Yesterday, my wife told me of a post in her news-feed of a man going to multiple grocery stores to try to buy formula for a baby, and finding it sold out everywhere. There are probably lots of these situations all over the place, as scarcity from the high demand sets in.

This basic knowledge and supply problem could be ameliorated if every neighborhood and city had their own informal social media groups (NextDoor, Facebook, etc) dedicated specifically to the purpose.

Such groups could share information about store/business closures, and what grocery stores are out of what key supplies. Individuals could also easily contact each other for swapping/purchasing items. Quite a lot of the elderly are now on Facebook as well, and could benefit from this.

Churches will/are probably doing a lot of this as well.

Heck, a few donors in each community willing to help pay for Facebook/Google ads would go a long way, and wouldn't be all that expensive.

This sort of thing is probably already happening, or will happen soon enough. But if it was signal-boosted loudly enough, it could help speed the process, especially in these early days with the highest panic buying.

Finally, we should try to look for and highlight as many #LittlePlatoon efforts as possible. These stories will help us keep our spirits up and counteract the home-bound feeling of powerlessness. It's also a quintessentially American thing, and fits with Dr. Cowen's recent column on America generally starting slow and finishing strong in a crisis.

I think state health departments need volunteers who know how to use Excel or, hell, just Wikipedia tables to summarize our local infection data better than what we're getting now. I'll sign up.

When the illinois count was only 15 or so, the Chicago Tribune had a very nice table listing each case (no names of course), hospitalization/ recovery/ home isolation status, as well as the probable source of infection. Now that our count is over 60, we just get case counts per county. They don't even subtract recoveries. Someone's got the details I'm looking for, but they can't be bothered putting it together for the general public.

I'd especially like to see a table column for probable source of infection. I know in many cases that will just be "unknown", but I'm sure in many cases investigators have isolated causes to specific health professionals or social gatherings. We never hear that, just advice to avoid gatherings of more than 250 people, as though a count of 249 is magically safe.

I was stunned to read about that Seattle house party that caused 5 infections, a story I just stumbled upon but which really opened my eyes about how careful I need to be.

Good idea: You could volunteer to become a contact tracer. Would probably need training from the health department which is probably overwhelmed at this time, and the state would probably have to disclose the identity of infected person to you.

You might also find the source and get sick.

This doesn't count as "volunteering" per se, but if like me you are a relatively affluent urbanite who pays a relatively less affluent urbanite to take a long subway ride to clean your house regularly, then bite the bullet and pay them in advance for the next few weeks of work—whether they come to clean your place or not. They will appreciate it more than you realize, and they will be able to make much, much, much better decisions as a result than you realize. You will have plenty of free time to clean your own apartment.

Dr. Michael Osterholm suggested that people form a connections group monitoring the conditions of persons susceptible to the virus's adverse events.

Check in with mom and dad, uncles and aunts.

Adopt a family who doesn't have local connections in the community to monitor or assist.

Teach an elderly person who regularly had contact with children or grandchildren how to use FaceTime, GoogleHangout, Skype, etc. so they can remain in virtual contact with their relatives. This also gives the other relatives the opportunity to see how the grandparents are living in isolation and so they can also monitor their health.

If you are technically proficient and have the permission of the nursing home, you can teach nursing home personnel offsite how to use FaceTime, Googlehanout, etc. so that they could give an iPad to an elderly person to talk to persons who would otherwise visit the nursing home.

If the family members don't know how to use those features, you could teach them. If they don't have the required equipment, you could meet them at a library and use their computer equipment.

“Folding@home is joining researchers around the world working to better understand the 2019 Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) to accelerate the open science effort to develop new life-saving therapies. By downloading Folding@Home, you can donate your unused computational resources to the Folding@home Consortium, where researchers working to advance our understanding of the structures of potential drug targets for 2019-nCoV that could aid in the design of new therapies. The data you help us generate will be quickly and openly disseminated as part of an open science collaboration of multiple laboratories around the world, giving researchers new tools that may unlock new opportunities for developing lifesaving drugs.”

Buy a billboard in Times Square to inform people

Collect data that might be interesting to look at later.

For example, when bars are closed, how does this impact car accidents, EMS services, reported rapes, crime rates, and liquor store sales (for those who now make their own drinks at home?

What sources of information do people turn to during a crisis, and how does that differ in non-crisis situations.

Like he did in Puerto Rico,
Will the President be seen
Throwing out
Toilet paper to those outside the White House gate.

Controlling for income and wealth,
Will Republicans experience a higher incidence of covid and death Because they believe their President.

When people are stressed and forced to think about their own circumstances, their health, safety and financial security,
They are less likely to give to charities.

Recognize this problem because some charities that provide help to others will be having greater needs and less support.

My suggestion, if you can afford it, is when your son's baseball academy or your daughter's dance class tries to give you a refund for services they couldn't perform, refuse to take the refund. If you are in a position to help that kind of business and their employees, do so.

Offer to live stream their performance. For football games, hire a radio announcer to give play by play broadcasts via the internet.

What's happening to kids' sports in your area? We are in various degrees of shutdown, even for sports that typically draw no crowds and have people well separated.

There is debate among parents about one-on-one things with coaches and whether they're in the spirit of our collective responsibility to shut this thing down. The kids seem to be hitting the weights on their own pretty effectively, but that's not a substitute for, for example, live pitching in baseball.

Haven't affected sports yet.

One of the issues will be student theatre, because theatrical rights are for live performance only, so they will need to get a license for streaming if there is no live performance.

I would act under the assumption that all that stuff will get wiped out for a few months, and that it's just a matter of time before it does.

Maybe this isn't surprising, but around here the schools went first, and then it took some time for people to admit that gathering 600 young school kids to stumble around with soccer balls on Saturday mornings wasn't the best idea.

Give to food banks (preferably money) and donate blood, including platelets, which have a short useful life. I am repeating here what others have said in hopes of pushing it up near the top of the list.

Here is some advice for
david babbling brooks
Look at how stupidly politicized histrionic &low information the coronavirus coverage has been to date!

When I was in the reserves they offered me a gig in Afghanistan as an intel officer, I said I am not qualified and I would do more harm than good, but I did volunteer to train as a mortuary officer.

I will volunteer again in that capacity, nothing scares me much.

are you the fello/a who adjusted our televisions
and removed our skid plate bolts?

I’m involved in a grassroots effort in the Boston area. If you want more info, please reply and I’ll loop you in.

Keep me posted. I live in Cambridge.

Per Tyler's idea from his bloomberg column, let's entertain each other. Make videos with your friends (via google hangout or zoom) singing parody songs, make your own fake late night show, make 30 seconds of bad claymation.

Post your videos to youtube, and tweet them out with a common hashtag. #laughsnotcoughs? #coronamakeafoolofmyself? #laughtilcoviddies? I don't know. But if our regular entertainment takes a break, we gotta step up. Reenact Hamlet with action figures. Do impressions. Play an instrument.

I'm a small-town mother and teacher. I called my town's housing authority and a local nursing home. They are sending me residents who would benefit from a friendly letter and uplifting art from students who are looking to be thoughtful, creative and community-minded.

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