Everything I Learned about Weathering Coronavirus I Learned from Disaster Relief

Yi Shun Lai
5 min readMar 21, 2020

First: Hunker down. The families we meet on deployment for ShelterBox are in deep need: Many of their homes have blown away; their villages are in disarray, and the supply chains for necessities like food and water are still down. But they are still alive after hurricanes because they sheltered in place or because they heeded community leaders’ advice and went to shelter at a communal location, like a school or a church. They stayed put. Just like we’re doing now. (Not like the group of seniors I just saw a couple days ago, all clustered together at the trailhead, waiting for their normal morning walk together.)

Second: Look after your community. Everyone’s heard that Mister Rogers quote about looking for the helpers. Well, after a major disaster has happened, Mister Rogers might be really pleased to see that the helpers are everywhere.

I don’t mean in the form of foreign aid agencies who have come in to help. I mean people within their own communities, who go from homesite to homesite checking to see if their neighbors are okay; who help rebuild, who offer to look after each others’ children while the adults are out trying to right the massive wrongs done by earthquake, flood, mudslide.

I’m seeing a lot of this now. My friend Dave reports from Seattle that people are putting up signs in their windows that say either “okay” or “need help,” so it’s easier to see which households need assistance during this time. And Carrot Quinn, a writer I met on book tour in 2016, has put together a Mutual Aid endeavor for her Tucson community. Carrot and her team will stockpile and deliver supplies to people who need it. (Read more about it here.)

In my own experience as an aid volunteer, I’ve met folks who set aside their own needs to help their neighbors first; who put their own affairs in minimal order and then immediately got down to things like feeding their communities.

In coronavirus times, I think that means taking stock of your own resources, and then seeing what you can do to help. If you’re still healthy and not of senior age, make a list of the seniors you know in your neighborhood and just call to check in. We’re doing weekly or bi-weekly grocery runs so far. (But not to Macy’s to return…

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Yi Shun Lai

Author: A SUFFRAGISTS’S GUIDE TO THE ANTARCTIC (2024), Pin Ups (2020). Columnist, The Writer. theGooddirt.org; @gooddirt. Psst: Say “yeeshun.” You can do it!