Haley DeLoach had plans to finish her master’s thesis research at the Gunung Mulu National Park in the Malaysian State of Sarawak on the island of Borneo – a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its caves and abundance of bats. However, as is all too familiar at this point, Haley’s summer field season was canceled due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). So, Haley has found herself quarantined in Athens, GA with her cat Birdie, her rescue kittens, and a desire to help her Athens community.
Haley heard about volunteer opportunities to deliver groceries to immigrant families in the community through Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition (AIRC) and Dignidad Inmigrante en Athens (DIA). Because undocumented persons are not included in the federal CARES Act, migrant workers and their families are at high risk of exposure to COVID-19 and loss of income. AIRC and DIA have partnered with various organizations and food banks in Athens (and the surrounding area) to provide free grocery deliveries to undocumented families.
I interviewed Haley on her experience working with AIRC and DIA delivering weekly groceries to our immigrant Athens community since the pandemic hit. More information on how to help and volunteer is found below.
Rachel Arney: Can you talk about what an afternoon of volunteering with this program is like? From grocery pick-up to delivery?
Haley DeLoach: Honestly, every day is a little different! The day before, one of the amazing DIA or AIRC organizers sends an email with details about the pick-up and delivery process, and information about the route. There are several pick-up locations depending on the day and time of the scheduled pick-up. Generally, you would drive to the pick-up location where meat, vegetables, grains, and sweets from the food bank are sorted into boxes and loaded into your car. From there, you would drop each box on the doorstep of each household in your route!
RA: What safety precautions are in place to protect both you and the families to whom you deliver?
HD: I always wear a mask and keep hand sanitizer in my car. Everyone working the pick-up locations also wear masks. During deliveries, most of the time no one is home, so it is an easy contact-less delivery. If anyone is home and outside, it’s nice to say hello to families while making sure to stay at least 6 feet apart.
RA: What was the shortest time it took you and the longest? To how many families have you delivered?
HD: Phew. Once it took me a whopping 4 1/2 hours from pick-up to delivery for 10 houses. The Food Bank truck was late, then Google Maps took me to wrong places, and it was sometimes difficult to find house numbers to know if I was delivering to the right places. The shortest time it took me was 1.5 hours. Addresses were easy to find, and I even got repeat houses from previous weeks.
RA: Do you feel the process is more streamlined as time has progressed?
HD: Yes! Every time a volunteer goes to a particular address and it was difficult to find, the volunteer can give information about the house to the organizers to add to notes for the next person who delivers to that house.
RA: What is the most difficult part of deliveries?
HD: Definitely finding some of the houses, but the DIA/AIRC organizers are always close to their phones so you can call or text them if you need help finding an address. Also, sometimes boxes are REALLY heavy! One day each box was 120 lbs. and filled my car to the roof! It really felt great to be able to deliver all that food, though.
RA: Any funny anecdotes?
HD: My first day I didn’t realize until the end of my route that they accidentally gave me 11 boxes even though I only needed 10. So, I saved the non-perishables for the next week’s deliveries. However, I needed to get rid of the meat, so the final 2-person household on my route ended up with 2 whole chickens, 6 chicken burgers, and around 2 dozen drumsticks. I hope they like chicken!
How to help:
If you or anyone you know is interested in volunteering, please sign up here Donations can be made via Venmo @AthensImmigrantRightsCoalition
*Rachel is a PhD student in Integrative Conservation and Geography at the University of Georgia and a volunteer with Athens Mutual Aid Network.