Volunteering in the face of COVID-19

I painted this fire hydrant on North Oregon Street on Sept. 28. There are more than 700 hydrants throughout the city of Ontario, and refreshing them is just one of many ways you can volunteer in our community, even at a future date.

With COVID-19 basically canceling life as we used to know it this year, it also appears to have canceled a lot of people’s willingness to volunteer in their communities. In a report by National Public Radio, Feeding America, it stated that while the number of people going to food banks for help went up more than 60% in April, the number of volunteers coming to help said food banks went down by 60%.

Despite having a busy schedule these days, I still found time to help with Ontario City Councilor Freddy Rodriguez’s Ontario Hydrant Repaint event on Sept. 26. It may not be a food bank, but it still does this community good, in my view.

I took part in the repaint project, as I had been interested in it upon hearing about the effort when I moved to Ontario late last year. I love painting, and find just about any excuse I can to pick up a paintbrush, whether it be on a small canvas to later hang on my entryway wall or a wall all by itself.

I actually enjoyed going up Oregon Street to refresh a series of sun-bleached hydrants with a new coat of red. Rodriguez supplied the paint, paintbrushes and glass beads (the latter is sprinkled on top of the white caps, as they act as a light reflector for firefighters in case they need the hydrants at night), while I supplied my sort of nimble hands to apply the pigmentation.

The thing is about the experience, it was just me and Rodriguez out there painting hydrants. As such, we weren’t able to get them all done. That and the point about food banks doing more with fewer helpers this year has me sad about the state of volunteerism in the era of COVID-19.

Yes, it’s scary to imagine what the virus can do to you. But is it worth giving up on helping others? Not in my honest opinion. I think this is a time when we should give more effort in helping those in need of our help, not less. I know you may be thinking, “They’re just hydrants, a lick of paint isn’t gonna do much.” Actually it can. In a fire emergency, that paint can help firefighters save precious seconds in spotting the hydrant as they work to stop fire damage before it extends beyond repair, or at the very least prevent it spreading to neighboring properties. When no such emergency exists, that coat of paint can reinforce neighborhood pride, showing visitors to our dear little city that we have pride in where we live.

But volunteering goes beyond just taking a brush to a device reserved for emergency services. Volunteering in your community not only fills needs for help by those less fortunate than us, it develops positive character in ourselves and can take the edge off of any situation whether you’re giving or receiving help.

Being in a pandemic doesn’t act as an excuse to stop helping others and sit in front of the TV all day. It just means that we need to take greater care in our volunteer efforts: Wear a mask, even if only as a means of respect toward others. Spread out and don’t stand too close to others, especially those at higher risk. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer until you get somewhere you can wash your hands. Work outdoors, even as temps start to require hoodies and jackets.

How hard is it to paint a hydrant? Not very: You just paint the top of the hydrant white before moving on to the red at the bottom. You just have to remember to write down the hydrant’s city ID number before you start and sprinkle the top of it with glass beads before white paint dries.

I wish to express gratitude to Rodriguez for the chance to help with this project. There’s more hydrants to paint, so when the project resumes in the spring, virus permitting, get on Facebook and search “Ontario Hydrant Repaint” to learn more. If the paintbrush is your nemesis, I advise you to seek a worthy cause within your skill set. As long as mankind exists, someone’s gonna need your help. Just show you’re willing to help.

Corey Evan is a reporter at the Independent-Enterprise and Argus Observer. He can be reached at (208) 642-5258 or by emailing coreye@argusobserver.com. To comment on this story, go to www.argusobserver.com.

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