Volunteering May Be Good for Your Health

At age 50, he listens to his own advice. Dr. DeHart volunteers with international medical teams in Vietnam, typically two trips a year. He often takes his wife and children to help, too. “When I come back, I feel recharged and ready to jump back into my work here,” he said. “The energy it gives me reminds me why I wanted to be a doctor in the first place.”

I think of my personal rewards from volunteering as cosmic electricity — with no “off” button. The good feeling sticks with me throughout the week — if not the month.

When will it be safe to resume my volunteering activities?

I’m considering my options. The park is offering some outdoor opportunities involving cleanup, but that lacks the interaction that lifts me. I’m tempted to go back to the food bank because even Charles Dinkens, an 85-year-old who has volunteered next to me for years, has returned after eight months away. “What else am I supposed to do?” he asked. The homeless shelter isn’t allowing volunteers in just yet. Instead, it’s asking folks to bag lunches at home and drop them off. Oh, they’re also looking for people to “call” virtual games of bingo for residents.

Virtual bingo just doesn’t float my boat.

Truth be told, there is no one-size-fits-all way to safely volunteer during the pandemic, said Dr. Kristin Englund, staff physician and infectious disease expert at the Cleveland Clinic. She suggests that volunteers — particularly those over 65 — stick with outdoor options. It’s better to be in a protected space where the general public isn’t moving through, she said, because “every time you interact with a person, it increases your risk of contracting the disease.”

Dr. Englund said she’d consider walking dogs outside for a local animal shelter as one safe option with some companionship. “While we do know that people can give Covid to animals,” she said, “it’s unlikely they can give it back to you.”

Meanwhile, my next annual physical is coming up in January. It’s got me wondering if my labs will be quite as pristine as they were the last go-round. I’ve got my doubts. Unless, of course, I’ve resumed some sort of in-person volunteering by then.

Last year, an elderly woman staying at the homeless shelter pulled me aside to thank me after I handed her a lunch of tomato soup and a turkey sandwich. She set down her tray, took my hand, looked me smack in the eye and asked, “Why do you do this?”

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