Volunteers Band Together to Meet Community Needs as COVID-19 Spreads
ST. CLOUD -- As the novel coronavirus spreads, and uncertainty grips the nation, local volunteers are using the power of the internet and social media to match people in need with people willing and able to support them.
St. Cloud Area Prepper Pals formed last week as COVID-19 cases began appearing in the St. Cloud area. The core team of six people operates a website and a Facebook page, now boasting over 1,200 members.
The mission is simple: the group begins by collecting requests for food, household items, and other essentials. Once they have confirmed the request is from a real, local person, it is added to a spreadsheet.
That spreadsheet is constantly being updated with names of folks willing to meet needs in the community.
"It's all about facilitating mutual aid," said Ben Carollo, one of Prepper Pals' core members. "We ask for information about how urgent (the need) is so people can respond to those with the most urgent needs."
The requests run the gamut, Carollo says. Certain individuals, particularly seniors or those with chronic medical concerns, might be able to pay for items but they aren't able to venture out to pick them up. Others are facing financial uncertainty and request help paying for essentials.
One of the first requests, Carollo said, was a delivery of toilet paper to the home of an immunocompromised person.
"Obviously, there's been a big rush for that," said Carollo. "Luckily, it was one of the things that was filled relatively quickly."
The group is not a marketplace for buying or selling items, and the system isn't set up to simply receive donations, Carollo stressed. It's simply a 1:1 support system, with around 70 percent of all requests coming from households with children or immunocompromised people.
"There are a lot of cracks in the system," Carollo said. "We can't rely on every nonprofit to cover every need. Setting up mutual aid societies like this is a really powerful way to meet a challenge like this."
Carollo says the group is taking precautions to make sure volunteers aren't inadvertently spreading illness as they help. A team conference call yesterday included a public health nurse, providing tips on questions to ask volunteers and how to make sure items are sanitized before delivery.
The group includes 60 volunteers and grows by about 10 each week. Carollo, a grad student several classes shy of a Masters degree in Biosecurity, helped establish the website and spreadsheet.
Carollo says he's been sharing information about Prepper Pals with friends in other states, hoping the concept will catch on. These days, he works remotely, several hours each day, while battling his own, yet-undiagnosed illness.
"I can't leave my house," Carollo shared. "I know for certain I don't have the flu, so it seems likely it's the coronavirus."
Carollo was tested for COVID-19 on Saturday. He's still waiting for results and putting in a few hours each day keeping the ever-growing Prepper Pals moving along.
"Having a ton of volunteers is a really great problem to have," he said. "Struggling to contact them all? It's a good sign. It's really nice to see so much community around this."
The Minnesota Department of Health reported six new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, bringing the state total to 60. The number of patients that have been tested is up to 2,336.