During the COVID-19 pandemic, public employees across the nation have given back to their communities in extraordinary ways. From donating to food banks to helping their neighbors and protecting their communities, public employees have been on the front lines during this pandemic. 

Social workers are often the unsung heroes of our communities. When folks hit hard times, social workers are the ones who catch them and lift them up. This week, we are honoring the hard work performed by social workers across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Detroit area social workers meet the pandemic head-on by Gregg Krupa. Writing for The Detroit News, Krupa tells the story of social workers across Detroit like Amanda Stein, who set up a food pantry in Madison Heights when schools were closed. According to Krupa,  it now serves 1,000 people per week. Stein commented, “When the schools closed, I had an idea of what might be coming. The food, obviously, was a big one, with people not being able to leave their houses and go to grocery stores, people not working. I said, well somebody needs to start a food pantry in the city, because Madison Heights did not have a food pantry at the time.” Brian Nickerson, who is normally an inpatient social worker for patients who have cystic fibrosis, also finds himself supporting families more than ever. “They are fighting for their lives and I am supporting the families. The families themselves are really isolated, given the security check, and most families members are also are quarantining because they’ve had contact with their loved one. So it is really a matter of coping with death in isolation. Sometimes, I was the only outside voice they heard.”

Retired state workers protest on behalf of DSS workers in Norwich by Matt Grahn. In April, retired state workers stood up for the rights of current Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS) workers in Norwich. Social workers are often the first line of defense for many families, and their required home visits can put families and their own lives in danger during the pandemic. Nicolo Festa, who is a retired social worker for DSS, said of their protest that DSS’s response to the pandemic has been “late, piecemeal, inadequate and inconsistent.” 

As calls to crisis hotlines spike amid the coronavirus, those who respond feel the strain by Suzanne Hirt. In a wide-ranging piece for USA Today, Hirt writes about the numerous mental and emotional health helplines that are available across the nation. Since the start of the pandemic, with people facing increased feelings of isolation, many of these helplines are strained, and so are the social workers and volunteers who are there to help. Vikki Rompala, a social worker for Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, has been reaching out to patients who have tested positive for COVID-19. “While some are dealing with food insecurity and job loss, the most pressing problem is the emotional toll of worrying they’re going to die,” she says.

If you or a loved one is in need of mental or emotional help, you can reach the National Alliance on Mental Illness hotline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or [email protected]; available Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET for information, resource referrals and emotional support. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741; available 24/7 for crisis counseling.

Be sure to check back next week for more stories of public employees giving back to their communities!