Bulldogs still called to serve despite coronavirus outbreak

by Luanne Williams

Faith, knowledge, service – it’s who we are at Wingate, where we’re motivated by our faith to put our knowledge to work in the service of others. But what happens when a pandemic forces us to cancel communal volunteer efforts that range from regular weekly projects to our huge annual day of service?

Well, we find new ways to serve.

As most Wingate undergraduates were packing their bags and heading home to begin the transition to online classes, a group of School of Pharmacy students were helping to man the NC Coronavirus hotline for the state’s Poison Control Center in Charlotte.

The dozen or so student pharmacists who signed up to help were given training on how to answer calls and how to document caller questions. They spent much of their spring break (March 16-20) in the call center and will continue to help out.

“The service and request for help started a week or two before and will likely continue for the next several weeks,” said Dr. Wes Haltom, associate professor and director of advanced pharmacy practice experience.

He said the hotline benefits callers and students alike. 

“Learning how to communicate with patients ‘on the fly’ and distill down their concerns into a scientific question, researching a response, and then providing back in a way that is easily understood and informational is a vital skill for any pharmacist,” Haltom said. “These students have had an increased opportunity as a product of this stressful time for patients and caregivers, as well as the general public.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Catherine Wright, executive director for the University’s Collaborative for the Common Good, and Sarah Busby, Wingate’s Campus Compact HungerCorps coordinator, have been working alongside Monroe nonprofits to make sure the community’s most vulnerable members have what they need.

Thursday, they helped a skeleton crew at Heart for Monroe take in donations, and pack more than 100 bags of groceries for senior citizens and low-income families.

“The list of needs keeps growing as Heart for Monroe, the Monroe Police, the Council on Aging and other agencies get calls for help,” Wright said. 

The CCG, whose purpose is to match resources, talents and expertise with community needs while providing opportunities for academic pursuits, is already knee-deep in projects that benefit eastern Union County. This semester alone, nearly 400 Wingate students have played a role in the CCG, working with nonprofit partners on and off campus.

It’s those partners that Wright is reaching out to, even as the virus mandates limited contact.

“We were all distanced from each other and gloved appropriately,” Wright said of Thursday’s volunteer efforts. As she has helped assess needs and find ways to meet them, she’s also been careful not to encourage volunteers to put themselves or others at greater risk. In fact, she’s pulled back from listing opportunities on the University’s Partnership Portal, a go-to during normal times.

“People have to get fed, but we don’t want parents whose kids are home from school bringing them down to help,” Wright says. “The organizations are having to make sure the volunteers are very healthy and are taking the proper precautions. And really, they need donations more than anything.”

To help give University employees and their families guidance on how best to help, she shared a flyer detailing needs and safety protocols.

“One thing families who are home together and want to help can do is to make it into a fun activity,” Wright says. “They can make pans of spaghetti or lasagna and then drop it off at the shelter. The staff there can freeze the food and use it as needed, since a lot of the volunteer groups who typically come in to cook can’t come in. Or if they want to take a loaf of bread, make sandwiches (no condiments) and then seal the loaf back and drop it off, that works too.”

While she has had to put some routine CCG work on pause, Wright says the service component hasn’t missed a beat.

“The Collaborative is about relationships, being there through thick and thin, good times and bad, for our partners,” she says. “Our partnership efforts just look a little different now. Our ROOTS Summit, held earlier this year, showed us our community is very vibrant and wants to take care of each other. Times like this show us why that’s so important in a very in-your-face kind of way.”

March 20, 2020