“There’s no point sitting around and getting sad about it, maybe we can all band together to do something good,” says William Meara, the director of Bingo Loco.

For Meara – whose events company usually runs events, hosting bingo parties here and overseas – the spread of the coronavirus and the need to keep people apart has meant cancelling operations for the foreseeable future.

But he, like others across the city, has decided to pivot to using what the company has to help those who are most vulnerable get what they need, as they self-isolate – in other words, stay home, so they don’t get sick.

Others across the city have directed resources not just towards those self-isolating but those who are likely to bear the brunt of the economic fall-out of the public health crisis – those on lower incomes, or in precarious work or living situations.

It’s also important, though, that those who have pooled together in local groups make sure they are staying safe, and not spreading the virus.

Pitching In

In our growing directory “Neighbours Helping Neighbours”, residents and businesses across Dublin are offering a helping hand and thoughtful services, from running errands and pharmacy pick-ups, to grass-cutting and food for health workers, to online yoga classes.

“It’s brilliant that so many people are responding to the idea of people being isolated and particularly older and vulnerable people,” says Celine Clarke, head of advocacy and communications for Age Action Ireland.

Sam Bishop started a community drive in his area in Dublin 8 once he realised the severity of the situation, he says.

“A lot of people realised this was getting serious when schools and colleges were told to stay at home,” says Bishop.

On Saturday, Bishop and people from his community went around dropping letters into mailboxes to let people know about the service.

So far, they’re just spreading the word that they’re available – expecting to be called on more going forward, he said. “I’m trying to help out wherever I can.”

A fellow co-founder and neighbour, Eoghan Howe, divided up Dublin 8 on a map to help organise the operations. Services they offer range from collecting shopping to walking dogs to collecting prescriptions, says Bishop.

There is now a network of team leaders from Dublin 8 in a WhatsApp group chat, where they can share resources, Bishop says.

For Bingo Loco, pitching in means using its five vans – which in normal times ferry around staff and props – to service areas around the M50 ring road, Meara says.

“We can do stuff like dropping food off and making our warehouse available for storage,” says Meara. They’re gearing up to do this, he says.

Lots of people want to get involved. After offering his services online, Meara says that half of the responses are people offering their services to him.

Organising a Group

Clarke says that it is important that people are careful with how they go about this kind of thing.

“Everybody needs to know that HSE guidelines for Covid. If you don’t protect yourself from Covid, you are not going to protect the older person,” she says.

A spokesperson for the HSE says it is working on a best-practice guide for people in community groups running outreach initiatives.

Says Bishop: “Wear face masks, clean your hands, wear gloves, use brand new paper. Be as careful as possible when handling anything. When you’re handling groceries, do the same.”

When it comes to collecting shopping, particular care needs to be given to this, says Clarke.

Avoid any physical interaction by leaving the shopping on the doorstep and if the older person can order their groceries online or call the shop and order, get them to so then you don’t have to exchange any money with them, she says.

“Don’t expect the older person to open their door and shake hands with them, you shouldn’t shake hands with them,” Clarke says

Letting the Guards Know

“We have been in contact with the guards because they were saying this is a classic way of getting into someone’s home,” Bishop says.

“They have given guidelines to say that if you are organising a group then you should send every volunteer’s name and address to a local Garda station,” says Bishop.

Clarke says there are ways to reassure older people too, that the outreach isn’t nefarious.

Putting your name and phone number on a piece of paper and slipping it through the letterbox is a good way to make yourself known to vulnerable people in your area, says Clarke.

But “if an older person is getting a random name through the post they need to be able to trust that person,” she says.

If you are part of a local choir or the GAA Club you should include that on the piece of paper, she says.

Making It Clear

Also, “say what you are available to do. The worst thing to do is to say that you are available for everything and anything,” says Clarke.

If you are offering to collect shopping, let them know what time you can collect shopping at, she says.

“Prescriptions can be tricky because sometimes they need to collect them themselves,” she says.

“If you are available to walk the dog or put out the bins say that you are available to do that,” she says.

Use social media to see what services are already in place to help elderly people in your area, says Clarke. “Try to build on the capacity of what is already organised.”

There might be a Men’s Shed, St Vincent de Paul group, or a bridge group who know who needs help because they know the needs of their own circle, says Clarke.

Meara, of Bingo Loco, says it is hoping to partner with Alone “to streamline offerings and make sure that we are doing it right”.

Says Clarke: “We don’t have to do a massive thing to be a hero. We just have to stay connected and keep the connection. When this all over we should continue to keep that spirit.”

Donal Corrigan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers transport, and the southside. To get in contact with him, you can email him on donal@dublininquirer.com

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