AS Covid-19 reaches into every area of society, one Cork musician is doing his best to pull the community together.
Ben Hendrick, of Glanmire, lost his sole source of income due to restrictions put in place to combat the pandemic, but his enthusiasm to reach out to people remains intact.
It all began on the day Ben realised his scheduled gigs for the month had been cancelled. He was feeling hopeless and frustrated, so he phoned his mother to ‘give out’.
“I was just saying to her that I had lost all my work, and I’m technically unemployed for who knows how long,” he recalls.
“I was just moaning about my woes, and she was telling me stories about people panic buying and stuff like that, and she sent me a picture of an old person in a supermarket kind of scared because there was no food left in the shelves.”
Deeply moved by the bleak image, Ben took to Facebook to set up a group that would act as a network of volunteers, ready to attend to the daily needs of those susceptible to contracting the Coronavirus.
“I thought, maybe instead of giving out I needed to do something positive and constructive,” he says.
The group, ‘Cork COVID-19 Volunteers for the Vulnerable’, attracted more than 1,000 members in only three days.
Ben is proud of his initiative. He says assisting Cork’s vulnerable has kept his mind off negative notions in a period of hardship and uncertainty for Cork’s artists and creatives.
The musician has divided the workload between different areas of Cork to quicken the response process, and says the idea has yielded positive results. The group is also using the professional messaging application Slack to build rapport among the volunteers.
“It has had quite a good impact so far. I think it’s given people something to feel, that they are actually doing something in such a helpless situation,” he says.
Not all homebound older residents in Cork have someone to run errands on their behalf, and Ben says many of them don’t know how to use the internet to seek aid.
“It’s a lot harder to get the word out to (older) generations that are not on social media, and that’s pretty much who we are mainly trying to help,” Ben says.
One volunteer, Eoin Spillane, of Mayfield, is printing posters with the group’s information and posting them across the city.
“I’m kind of young, healthy and I have a car, so I decided to help,” he says.
Eoin works in the manufacturing sector and has kept his job, but he is deeply touched by the contribution of Cork’s unemployed and low-income enclaves to the group.
“The group effort is fantastic to see. People from different ages and all walks of life, coming together to help,” he says.
“We’ve got people who’ve lost their jobs who are coming out to help.”
Ben is hoping that rising safety concerns won’t hamper group efforts in the weeks ahead, as the volunteers remain cautious but firm in their mission to help. The artist, who sings and plays in the bands, Va Va Voom, Naked Animals and 1000 Beasts, fondly recalls volunteering stories from these past few days, describing the experience as rewarding.
“There was a case where a kid needed a video game, but he had chronic asthma and wasn’t allowed outside, so we went and got the game for him, and he was absolutely delighted,” he says.
Ben has noticed that some older people living alone miss socialising with their friends, and is urging people to call or text their elderly neighbours, relatives or family members, to alleviate their feelings of loneliness.
“We had one lady calling us asking for someone to go and get her hair done. We couldn’t do that because it would put her at risk,” he says.
“But we realised she was missing socialising, so we asked a girl to give her a ring, and she said they had great chats, and she’s going to stay in touch.”
Eoin is also concerned about the impact of isolation on older people’s mental health. “They are definitely missing their social lives. It’s tough for them to be isolated at home,” he says.
Besides volunteering to assist vulnerable groups, there are other ways to help those in need during the Covid-19 pandemic. Donating to charitable organisations is one. Cork’s Penny Dinners and Simon Community are some of the charitable groups that are helping homeless people, who are also vulnerable to contracting the virus, and donating money, food or other necessities to them can be extremely helpful.
Ben says if people continue to support each other, the challenging period will be easier to adjust to and pull the community together, closer than before.
He is also urging people to support musicians by sharing their online sessions.
“People can support us by sharing our work, and getting the word out,” he says. “It would be lovely if this would bring us all closer.”
If you’re feeling well and altruistic, you can join Ben’s group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/2603743489904941.