At-home kit building gives volunteers an easy and safe way to give back.
When COVID-19 hit, most volunteers were required to stay home, but the need in the community continued to grow at a rapid pace.
The 44 percent of families in our region that were already struggling to meet their basic needs were the hardest hit by the pandemic – forced to make increasingly difficult decisions like choosing between paying their bills and putting food on the table.
United Way for Southeastern Michigan, which traditionally worked with individuals and organizations to create volunteer kits during events, saw an opportunity to develop DIY Kits that would provide critical resources to families, seniors and infants in need.
“We had already begun looking at ways to revamp our volunteer kits and make them even more useful to our partner organizations and the individuals they serve,” said Stephanie Ralls, a volunteer engagement specialist at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “With the pandemic, we also needed to ensure volunteers were staying safe, so this was a perfect time for us to roll out a DIY option.”
United Way surveyed dozens of our partner organizations to determine what items were the most requested and created four new DIY kits based on their responses. The Senior Care Kit, Supporting Our Neighbors Kit, Children and Family Enrichment Kit and Infant Care Kit will help serve each group during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
For each kit, volunteers purchase from a list of items and sort them into baskets or boxes that are then dropped off to partner organizations such as Presbyterian Villages of Michigan, HAVEN, The Guidance Center and Grace Centers of Hope for distribution.
“The response to the survey we sent out has been incredible. There’s a real need in the community and the DIY kits help to ensure those needs don’t go unmet,” Stephanie said.
Ford, a United Way supporter for more than 70 years, was one of the first organizations to create the new DIY kits during their Ford Intern Summer Service Challenge.
Ford interns made a total of 63 Supporting Our Neighbors Kits filled with essentials like toilet paper, paper towels, household cleaners and personal hygiene products.
“I had a really great time shopping and reaching out to others to help donate,” said Paige Nightingale, an intern at Ford who created six kits. “I am so happy Ford decided to do these volunteer challenges. They have been a highlight of my internship.”
Another intern, Natalie Schlesinger, enlisted family, friends and neighbors to help her create 23 kits.
“I really enjoyed the experience,” said Natalie. “I love being able to volunteer and help out. I had a great turn out and was so proud of my community for helping me.”
Dani Wilson, Ford’s Volunteer Corps & Education Coordinator said it’s critical for Ford interns to have a holistic view of the company and to experience firsthand how their skills can benefit the community.
“For many of the interns, the time they spend volunteering is like an ah-ha moment,” she said. “It’s not as visible as doing something like building a car but it’s another important aspect of the work we do.”
The company encouraged the interns to set goals and mobilize their networks. She added that many enjoyed the flexibility of virtual activities.
Elizabeth Kobylasz, a volunteer services coordinator at The Guidance Center, was thrilled when the organization received 75 Supporting Our Neighbor Kits, including several dozen that were made by Ford interns.
“People often forget that food assistance doesn’t include paper products or personal hygiene products,” Elizabeth said. “These kits are so thoughtful and filled with items that people need but couldn’t otherwise afford.”
She shared her firsthand experience giving one of the donated kits to a mother in need.
“It’s really something special when you hand a basket to a mother and the tears just start streaming down her face because she’s so grateful,” Elizabeth said. “They’re thanking us but we’re thanking the volunteers and the team at United Way.”
Engaging in volunteer activities has helped some people to overcome the sense of powerlessness that many have experienced during the pandemic.
“People were seeing the impact of this virus and they wanted a safe way to help,” Stephanie said. “With these kits we’re also providing a way for seniors and families to safely access the items they need.”
Individuals considering building DIY kits are asked to create at least five kits and encouraged to get their friends and neighbors involved. Consider conducting a virtual or socially-distanced item drive to collect even more items and increase your impact.
To explore our current volunteer opportunities, click here.