No one had ever attempted in modern memory to blanket the entire City of Boston with printed literature in just a few hours’ time, but that’s exactly what happened on Saturday, March 21, as volunteers fanned out all over the South End, Back Bay and Fenway – as well as the rest of the City – to drop accurate COVID-19 printed information on every doorstep.
“I think it’s important the literature says it’s from the mayor and the City of Boston on it and it’s accurate information,” said South End/Bay Village Liaison Faisa Sharif. “It’s been amazing to see people step up and want to help. The South End has responded well. There is no way the City could have done this on its own so it’s been really important to have so many volunteers willing to canvas the neighborhood street by street. I think the big thing is neighbors want to help other neighbors who may not have access to reliable information, but we also want to protect the volunteers too.”
Volunteers in the South End gathered at Peters Park and Franklin Square on Saturday. They were provide gloves, hand sanitizer and a bag of literature – which was a full-sized pamphlet of accurate COVID-19 information printed in five languages. Each volunteer worked at a distance with a partner to drop the literature on each door, but without really engaging closely with anyone they encountered.
“I agree 200 percent there is so much misinformation circulating that isn’t coming from a reputable source,” said neighbor Ingrid Nevins, who is a nurse by profession. “I think the key is getting information from reputable sources like the CDC, the governor and the mayor. That’s why I wanted to help drop these fliers, which is reliable information.”
Volunteer Mary Lockwood said she has bene shocked by the numbers of people that don’t appear to be taking social distancing and the stay-at-home advisory seriously.
“I think it’s important to help people get on the ball,” she said. “I don’t think people are taking this seriously, no I don’t. I was at Peters Park Friday night and there was a big group playing basketball like normal. They’re playing with a ball they’re all touching. I mean, the NBA shut down its season and players in the NBA have gotten sick. That should say something to people. I just don’t think people are getting it. I’m hoping this effort helps.”
John Russell said he wasn’t aware of the effort until his girlfriend got an e-mail from someone who was volunteering. Having been cooped up and essentially unable to do anything to help, this seemed like a way to be productive.
“We’ve been cooped up all week and this seemed like a great way to get out for a little bit and help the neighborhood,” he said.
Meghan Dichiara, of the Ellis South End Neighborhood Association, said she has found there is a need for reliable information in paper format.
“It’s also a good way to get out in the sunshine for a little while, while helping to get this resource in to the hands of people who may not have access to all the electronic formats,” she said.
Jerome Smith, chief of Neighborhood Services, said last week they were watching so much misinformation spread about COVID-19, and also were encountering a lot of people who didn’t have access to information channels. Working with Mayor Martin Walsh, they decided to try to mobilize City government and volunteers to combat that problem in the response chain.
“We were seeing so much bad information out there and hearings tons of misinformation in particular about the City shutting down and the state shutting down,” he said. “The mayor said we just had to get information out. We had put information on Facebook and on the web every day. Ultimately, the mayor and I agreed we just needed to go door-to-door but not have groups going door-to-door. We needed to hit every door and we began to make it happen. In one week we had two printers working on the pamphlet and looking for volunteers.”
At first, he said they were nervous about volunteers. They were worried they wouldn’t get enough to carry out the job, and they were also worried they would have too many volunteers – thus violating the social distancing advisory. All of the effort, of course, had to be done in tandem with other people, but not at a close distance.
“We wanted 1,000 volunteers and we put out the word that’s what we were looking for to hit the whole city,” he said. “In one day, we had 500 volunteers sign up. After hitting city councilors and elected officials and their networks, we were able to easily get our 1,000 volunteers. It turned into a great thing.”
While volunteers from the City, state and community hit the streets vwith the literature, pre-arranged employees from senior housing developments and Boston Housing Authority (BHA) properties took delivery of the pamphlets and delivered them door-to-door in all of those buildings. That effort finished up late on Monday afternoon.
“It really has been a different experience for me, but an amazing experience too,” he said. “We were able to get the entire city dropped by 3 p.m. From 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. we used volunteers to fill in the gaps. I appreciated all the coverage we got and especially our volunteers. We really have to do this together. To combat misinformation residents need to go to trusted sources…We needed to provide that in print and we did. It was very important.”