From 2016 to 2018, I made five trips to Greece to volunteer at the Oinofyta refugee camp. I was usually the oldest volunteer by about 15 years. I didn't have the stamina of the younger people, but I had enough wisdom and life experience to be useful. Friends would say, "Why do you do that?" My response was, "We're all in this together, and I won't always be able to do it." That last phrase, "I won't always be able to do it," came from my brain, but part of me didn't really believe it.
I believe it now.
In the last couple of years my left knee and my right hip have begun to act up. The x-rays show bone-on-bone arthritis in my knee and a bunch of confused and compensating muscles and ligaments fighting each other in my right hip capsule. In spite of orthotics in my shoes, physical therapy, massage, and injections in my knee and hip, I'm sometimes walking like the elderly woman I never believed in my heart I would become. I do a lot of e-bike riding and some swimming, but no hiking and not a whole lot of walking for exercise.
Last year I read about the Arizona Department of Health Services. They were looking primarily for volunteer healthcare professionals but also for interested non-healthcare volunteers, to register in advance so they could rapidly identify and mobilize health care volunteers in emergencies.
I signed up and was accepted as a volunteer, and was contacted twice. Once was to work with a Covid screening project on a Native reservation. But at that time the vaccine wasn't available and, as a person over 65, I was in a high-risk group. Then, when Pima County (where we live, in Tucson, in the winter) opened large vaccine drive-through events, I was invited again. But the shifts were six hours long and I'd be on my feet most of the time, which those same feet would not be happy with. Remember "I won't always be able to do this"?
Then the county opened up pop-up vaccine events. By this time I'd gotten both Moderna shots. I was a January recipient of the first dose because I volunteer one day a week at a local health clinic, so I'm considered a healthcare worker. The pop-up events sounded more doable.
So on Sunday I volunteered for seven hours, from 7am to 2pm, at an elementary school near the airport. No one had to sign up ahead of time; they just had to be qualified according to the current Arizona status (anyone over 55, plus front-line workers: grocery store checkers, restaurant servers, etc). There was a drive-through and a walk-in. The venue was in an underserved area of Tucson. I'd say 85 percent of the vaccine seekers were Latinx. We had registration materials in Spanish and English.
The other five volunteers at the walk-in venue were younger, so when I needed to give my feet a break I sanitized clipboards and pens and collated registration materials to put on the clipboards to send back out with the other volunteers. I'd colored part of my hair blue the day before; I figured I'd look more relevant to the younger people than if I just looked like an old grandma. That turned out to be a good idea!
My feet hurt A LOT at the end of the event, and I went straight home and fell soundly asleep for an hour. My whole body hurt until I went to bed that night.
I may not always be able to do this!