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The privilege to shelter in place

Published: 4/27/2020 11:05:21 AM

This morning in a note to a friend I wrote the words “shelter in place.” Seeing that on the page, I realized how fortunate we are, the ones with the means and a secure place to live, who are able to take shelter. Many of us are asked to do it because of our age and then are offered early hours in grocery and drug stores and curbside service at local grocery stories and bakeries.

We are able to do it because many of our neighbors go out every day to farm or pack produce, to staff the grocery and drug stores and to keep bakeries open and take-out meals available. Others keep the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority running, gas stations open and sort and deliver our mail. When I don my mask and gloves to go to the Florence Post Office to send a birthday package to my son in Utah, my favorite postal worker is there behind the plexiglass ready to help.

Every morning the Gazette and the New York Times arrive at our door to keep us in touch with local and world news, thanks to all the people who write, publish and deliver the papers.

Meanwhile, police and fire departments are on the front lines, responding to whatever their day may bring. In the medical centers and at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, the medical staff, maintenance and administration keep CDH running smoothly for all of us when we need them. They are there regardless of the personal risk they face each day. Child care providers keep centers open and running smoothly for the children of essential workers. Mayor David Narkewicz , Public Health Director Merridith O’Leary and city departments continue to work, many remotely, constantly establishing a coordinated response to the pandemic and maintaining vital city services.

There are also many volunteers who respond to the needs of those who have no safe place to shelter or who lack the resources to stock up on food; who live everyday with what we dispassionately call “food insecurity.” Not the temporary insecurity we are experiencing when items are unavailable or we can no longer get Peapod to deliver. Many in our community live with the daily uncertainty of whether they will have enough to feed themselves and their family. They depend on the staff and volunteers at the Survival Center, The Food Bank and the other organizations that have found a way to continue to make food available by moving outside.

Right now seniors, who are sometimes shocked to hear ourselves called the elderly, are asked not to volunteer at the shelter at the high school. We are told not to come just now to work at the Survival Center. We are advised to stay home, to shelter-in-place, to do our part to flatten the curve. That is the privilege we can accept, with profound gratitude for all the members of our community who make it possible.

Marion VanArsdell is a retired teacher, writer and community activist. Her book “I Teached Him to Talk: Stories of Children with Autism,” is published by Levellers Press.

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