The process of finding my part in the pandemic
Danielle Wendricks is an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. She studies Community and Nonprofit Leadership, History, and Education Policy, and is a student intern at the Morgridge Center for Public Service.
On the evening of March 11th, 2020, I was sitting in my apartment in Copenhagen, Denmark eating dinner with my roommate. I had been in Europe for nearly two months studying abroad, and finally felt settled into my new normal. I was excited for another six months of Scandinavian adventures - that was if the looming coronavirus pandemic slowed down.
On the afternoon of March 12th, 2020, I was on an airplane heading home to Madison, Wisconsin.
I arrived home, and I felt like the life was sucked out of me. So I gave myself the time to grieve. I grieved over the remaining six months of travel plans across that were cut way too short. I cried over the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to take my grandfather to his homeland of Belgium. I sat in the pain of my older brother, a first generation college student, who wouldn’t be getting the proper commencement ceremony in Camp Randall that he had dreamt of. Even though I know that grief is not a competitive sport, I felt even worse that I was so outraged over these entirely first world problems, when I knew so many others had concerns of greater magnitude.
I sulked through my two week mandatory quarantine. I sat in solitude and self pity in my room at my childhood home, while desperately hoping that I hadn’t contracted the virus during my international travel. The two weeks passed, and I was grateful to be symptom free of COVID-19. After giving myself that needed time to be angry and be upset, I felt the urge to - in the spirit of the name of our task force - do my part.
I spent much of my childhood volunteering throughout the city of Madison. This interest in volunteering led me to major in Community and Nonprofit Leadership at UW-Madison, which then guided me to my work at the Morgridge Center for Public Service. I’ve spent the past year and a half advising students at the Morgridge Center on service opportunities and the benefits of volunteering. The current pandemic seemed like the perfect storm for me to get back to my Madison community roots and volunteer. And with that, I signed up to volunteer at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Southern Wisconsin.
I set an alarm and woke up at 7am, a feat I hadn’t accomplished in numerous weeks. My little brother and I arrived at the warehouse waiting room with just a few minutes to spare. We were welcomed by a room of volunteers separated by generous amounts of space in between each person. My extroverted self suddenly felt shy. I hadn’t seen strangers in weeks. I marveled in the sound and sight of people making small talk, and made sure to savor every second of being able to simply listen. It was so refreshing to hear someone's voice besides my family.
The volunteer coordinator of sorts emerged, and the conversations went silent. That coordinator gave us the instructions for the day, and we moved out of the waiting room in a single file line. The only thing differentiating the line from those I walked in during my elementary school days were the six feet and then some gaps between each of us. We washed our hands, put hairnets on, and gloved up. From there, the staff brought us into various rooms throughout the facility, and assigned us different tasks.
When I entered my work station, I was greeted by thousands of pounds of apples and carrots that needed to be separated into hundreds of plastic bags. I spent the next four hours in a rhythm of grab, place, weigh, twist, and repeat, while simultaneously conversing with one of the other volunteers. After a short time being around people again, my chatty self emerged back. We talked about how her children were faring, her adjustment to working from home, and the parks her and her husband liked to walk through. I shared with her my career aspirations and my time in Europe. Before I knew it, the clock struck noon and it was time to leave.
When I walked out of the facility, I took an extra second to stand still. I took a deep breath, and soaked up the spring sunshine on my face.
Did I eradicate the issue of hunger? No. Had I found the cure of coronavirus? No. Did I instill a sense of camaraderie across our political parties? No.
Did I make life a little bit easier for a few community members? Yes. Did I feel hopeful for the first time in weeks? Yes. Had time stopped for even just a few hours? Yes.
Since that morning in early April, I’ve found that my part in this pandemic is weighing apples and carrots, and distributing chicken tenders into two pound bags.
While we navigate this uprooting and often frightening uncertainty of our future, I’d like to leave you with the three steps that have helped me as I adjust to this new sense of normalcy. I surely hope they’ll help you too -
Be angry, upset, frustrated, and sad. Take as long as you need to feel these emotions. Those feelings are valid, and don’t need to be suppressed. Once you’re ready, let it out.
Seek those things that make you feel productive, give you a sense of normalcy, make you happy, allow you to distance yourself from the news, and give you hope. Maybe you find that in volunteering, perhaps in calling a friend, or possibly going for a walk around your neighborhood. Whatever it is, see if you can find some bliss in your life, and incorporate that into your daily life. (If you’re interested in volunteering at Second Harvest, more information can be found here.)
And repeat. We talk a lot about flattening the curve, which is really important for our healthcare facilities. What I don’t think we talk about enough though, is the turbulent ebbs and flows of our emotions during this time. The pain will relentlessly strike back, and we can’t change that. What we can change though, is how we respond to these chronic aches.