by Chris Ritter
As a national period of social isolation begins, no one really knows what this will truly mean or how long in will last. But we do have a good indication about who will be disproportionately affected. The elderly and immune compromised are most vulnerable to the disease and also among those who may not have the least access to essential items. There will be a gap.
The church I serve is standing up a ministry called Porch Angels to meet the need. We are happy to share the following thoughts in an open source way. We are in the early phases with fifteen volunteers being prepared to serve. We are far from having all the answers, but here is an initial list of questions worth asking:
Who are we serving? Our church family? The entire community?
Our efforts started with our local church and seem to be quickly merging with larger efforts in our community to meet the needs of senior adults. We realize it is a huge jump from serving the church family to serving the entire community. There are people currently without transportation who would love a free delivery service. Are we okay with becoming that? What will be the criteria for screening the need? Are there geographic boundaries or other parameters?
How do we keep from being part of the problem?
It is important to make sure a Porch Angels ministry complies with all COVID-19 protocols for social isolation. Will your volunteers stop on the porch and not go into the home? If not, how will social distance be maintained? We need to make sure we don’t contribute to the problem, especially among our most vulnerable populations. How will we train our people to make good decisions?
How do people request help?
In these early days we have many more volunteers than requests. We started by calling our ministry the “crisis team” but realized that seniors are often tough, independent people with a high bar for what constitutes a crisis. “Porch Angels” is designed to be more user friendly and accessible. We are calling the seniors in our church and offering this help. As it expands to the community we will need to let people know what number to call to request help.
How are our volunteers recognized and deployed?
We feel that lanyards or some other identifying feature is necessary for this ministry. The volunteers in our ministry are all people in whom we have confidence to handle things wisely and with great care. A lanyard is our endorsement of them. Should volunteers share their cell phone numbers? (This might prove handy for those “They don’t have it, will this do?” type of questions.) Do we want to partner porch angels with specific people or keep a rotation going based on who is available?
How will money change hands?
We currently envision two stops on the porch per need. One would be to receive a small shopping list and money and the other would be to return the items, receipt, and change. We would discourage our volunteers from saying, “Don’t worry about it” to small transactions, even though we know we have people who would want to do that. Exact accounting will be important to keep the ministry from collapsing under its own weight. If it becomes a “free stuff” service, the effort will not be sustainable.
There may very well be situations where a care recipient does not have adequate cash on hand but has money in the bank. What is the protocol for this? Will our volunteers visit the bank with a check? What are the risks in this? How can we protect our volunteers as well as the people they serve?
How will medication pick-ups be handled?
We called around to pharmacies and found a variety of policies about people picking up medications for someone else. We found some pharmacies in our community will deliver. Others have pay options on file that are connected to each patient. Prescriptions are, by definition, controlled substances. We need to think through various scenarios that might surface.
What are the boundaries?
Will there be limits on how often someone can request help? Are there limits to the number of items that a Porch Angel will pick up at one time? Is there a limit to the number of stops one person will be asked to make per request? Is there a limit to the amount of miles a volunteer will be asked to drive? Is there a limit to the dollar amount involved? Should there be a release of liability form or an intake process for those using the service?
Will our church efforts be overtly faith-based?
Are we offering prayer to those to whom we are serving? Are there printed resources about our church or ministry that we give to them? If we are cooperating with government efforts, are there guidelines about this?
You have heard of “Porch Pirates” that take from people. It is nice to think about an army of Porch Angels giving to others during this time of national crisis. We realize that more questions will surface as we move forward. There is an element of faith involved with launching something new. Unexpected issues will arise. The only way to avoid problems is to do nothing. But I think this is a moment for the church to be the church. We have decided to spread our wings and see what we can do.