Oles support health care workers during the pandemic through a new nonprofit, MN COVIDSitters
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, health care providers and hospital staff have been working diligently to treat patients with the virus and keep their communities safe. While busy on the frontlines, some of them need extra support at home in caring for children, running errands, and more.
Through the nonprofit MN COVIDSitters, created by a group of University of Minnesota medical students, St. Olaf College students have stepped up to provide free childcare and tutoring, adult respite care, errand running and pet sitting to health care workers in the Twin Cities metro area. Officially certified as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, MN COVIDSitters has inspired and supported the creation of 30 sister organizations throughout the United States and international chapters from the United Kingdom to the Middle East.
In Minnesota alone, COVIDSitters has had over 280 volunteers provide free services to more than 250 families since the beginning of the pandemic. Students who are interested in volunteering can see the home zip codes of families that have signed up online and pick a location that best fits their availability. As a token of appreciation, MN COVIDSitters fundraises in order to provide gift cards to volunteers in gratitude for their work.
Along with providing direct volunteer services, St. Olaf students have supported the work of MN COVIDSitters in several other roles. While the organization was initially almost entirely comprised of medical students from the University of Minnesota, St. Olaf students and alumni now sit on the board of directors and administrative teams.
Hannah Phipps ’20, a member of the board, first learned about the organization from a St. Olaf Facebook page early in the pandemic. Although she had already returned home to Colorado, she joined MN COVIDSitters as part of the volunteer recruitment team. A year later, she now serves as the admin liaison between the board of directors and administrative teams.
“It has been amazing to see how many passionate and thoughtful people came together to address a very critical issue in health care infrastructure. It is particularly rewarding to work to meet community needs through immediate direct service while advocating for long-term, sustainable change. It has been a privilege to be a part of such a dynamic and impactful team,” Phipps says.
St. Olaf nursing major Emily Crosby Lehmann ’22 serves on the administrative board by leading the public relations and outreach team for MN COVIDSitters. She also serves on the volunteer recruitment team and has provided childcare for a single mother in St. Paul who works 12-hour shifts as a pediatric critical care nurse and is studying to be a nurse practitioner.
“It is a lot of work between school and volunteering, but the work is so fulfilling and I know that we really make a difference in our Minnesota community,” says Crosby Lehmann, who is committed to MN COVIDSitters and believes that it has had an incredibly positive impact on Minnesota health care providers. Recognition by national news outlets, such as the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The New York Times, indicates that others think so too.
“I think COVIDSitters has really saved some families. When we think of health care workers, we often think of doctors. They have definitely been affected by the pandemic, but what we don’t see as often in the media are the nurses, the nursing aides, respiratory therapists, hospital cleaning crew, cafeteria workers, lab techs [and more], who have also been on the frontlines. There are a lot of health care families who have struggled financially throughout the pandemic. COVIDSitters has provided a consistent and free service for those who have been caring for our families throughout the pandemic,” Crosby Lehmann says. “It has been so uplifting to be able to provide help and make someone’s life easier in a time that is so hard for all of us.”
While the pandemic will hopefully subside in the near future, MN COVIDSitters is here to stay. The organization’s team members are working with a group of consultants through the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Business to develop plans for the long-term future. One of the organization’s goals is to expand service coverage to those outside of the health care field. In order to do that, they will continue fundraising efforts to provide gift cards to volunteers and to hire an executive director by the end of summer 2021.
“There are numerous ways for people to get involved now and in the future as we leverage our capacity to serve the Twin Cities post-pandemic. Our volunteer babysitting program is ongoing, and we are excited to be launching a summer tutoring program,” Phipps says.
Learn more about MN COVIDSitters.