Young volunteers - intergenerational friendships through the pandemic

12 Apr 2021

A study published in March 2020 in the Journal of Happiness Studies examined data from nearly 70,000 research participants in the UK who received surveys about their volunteering habits and their mental health. Compared to those who didn’t volunteer, those who had volunteered in the last year rated their overall health as happier and they didn’t all start the study feeling happy.

 Since the pandemic began, it has created feelings of stress and isolation for many of us, and there’s been a surge of young volunteers stepping up to support Jewish Care whilst they’ve been working from home, furloughed, or unemployed.

Jessie Mayer, 26, lives in North West London and has volunteered for Jewish Care for five years. The pandemic saw her take on a new role at Jewish Care’s Selig Court Retirement Living apartments as a personal food shopper. 

Jessie says, “I started volunteering in the summer of 2016 as I wanted to get involved in giving a few hours of my time each week. Almost every Sunday afternoon I’d volunteer at the Sunday Socials held at Jewish Care’s Selig Court – always an afternoon of entertainment and enjoyment for the Jewish Care Retirement Living tenants and I would stay and chat and have a cup of tea with the residents too.

When lockdown began last March, I wondered what would now happen for the tenants being confined to their flats. I couldn’t physically go to see the tenants but I really wanted to help.

Then in April, I was furloughed from my job in advertising and I suddenly had all this time on my hands so I offered to help in doing people’s shopping at Selig Court a couple of days a week. Word soon spread and I spent those early lockdown months doing sometimes up to 11 shops a week. I’d call or email to take orders and came to know their favourites very quickly.

I’d do the shopping and drop it off for the tenants at the front of the building and then at their own flat doors when the rules relaxed a bit more over the summer. I went back to work again in August but I’ve carried on delivering the shopping to the tenants every Sunday since.

The demand has gone up and down but for and now I deliver to two or three people each week. It’s now very much part of my routine.

I’ve built amazing relationships and friendships. One of the people I deliver to is Eva. She’s amazing, she loves art and is so creative and interesting to talk to. I always have a five or ten minute chat when I drop off the shopping and knowing that I can brighten someone’s day and sometimes their whole week has kept me going too.

The amount of joy that I get from seeing their faces light up at the sight of the shopping bags is immeasurable and the conversations I have with people at their doors keep me grounded.”

It all came from the pandemic and my perseverance to find a way to keep engaged with the residents I was so used to seeing weekly - I wasn’t prepared to wait until I could drink tea with them in person again.”

Eva says, "How much I really look forward to Jessie’s visits each Sunday morning - She is always so warm, bright and cheerful, like a breath of fresh air.  And I appreciate this all the more because the recent endless lockdowns during this pandemic have often made me feel quite isolated from the outside world.  I have now come to see Jessie as a real friend.

"And the sight of the familiar Waitrose shopping bags also fills me with joy - and with great appreciation … Not only do they contain a varied selection of grocery items to last me for the week, but also good quality fruits and vegetables which I enjoy - and usually, some carefully selected bright and cheerful flowers which do such a great deal to brighten my flat.   

"On top of this, what always amazes me is that when I regularly express my heartfelt thanks to Jessie, she seems quite sincere when she tells me how much pleasure and joy she gets from being a Jewish Care volunteer and having regular contacts with different people like myself.  So, to my surprise, this seems to be a two-way relationship  - and that feels really good.

Volunteering, building social connections and developing new skills has helped to maintain a sense of purpose and feel more positive. Virtual volunteering as much as in-person volunteering improves mental health and wellbeing, for all involved.

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