Thank you to those selfless enough to put their lives on hold and quarantine. The concept is hard to grasp but sheltering at home is our opportunity to save lives, even if it means feeling helpless in the process. Even if it means standing by while we lose the ones we love.

As a New Yorker, I understand that there’s a 50% chance that I will contract COVID-19. This statistic has become all too real and personally devastating as I’ve not only had close family members who have tested positive, but also have experienced the pain of losing a dear aunt. It’s awful. Death is harder to process when there’s no comfort of a funeral or family hugs.

My father has COVID-19 and pneumonia. He called the first night when he was forced to sleep in the hallway at the hospital. Struggling to breathe, he expressed his discomfort but there was nothing I could do. Mostly, we have been texting. The best accessory an isolated COVID patient can have is a cell phone—their only connection to the outside world.

Right now, even though we want nothing more than to be with our loved ones, we can’t. I am distracting myself by focusing on what can be done and keeping in mind that many have it worse. While balancing the emotional chaos, I’m also working from home, which includes caring for youth in homeless shelters and foster care.

The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness estimates that, on any given day, over 560,000 people are experiencing homelessness. For many, sheltering at home during the COVID-19 crisis means hunkering down in a homeless shelter—and among those taking shelter are children. Even when they’re not in the thick of a pandemic, children experiencing homelessness can become confused, afraid, anxious, and concerned for their safety. They need and deserve comfort too.

At Precious Dreams Foundation (PDF), providing comfort is our mission. Our team of first-responders provide support to children in need, whether they’re coping with a world crisis or simply a bad day. We deliver essential items for bedtime, as well as tools like journals and books to help children cope when they are experiencing housing insecurity. Our teddy bears are there for children who need something to squeeze; our fidget spinners give anxious bodies a place to direct nervous energy.

Armed with comfort items, children in transitional housing are better equipped to find some measure of peace during this scary time. Knowing this—and knowing PDF was part of the solution—helps me sleep, too. That’s the thing about giving back. Both the giver and the receiver reap the benefits. So when I feel like everything is being taken from me, I give more.

Practicing empathy, whether it is towards a child experiencing homelessness or another human being at risk of contracting COVID-19, opens you to other perspectives. You start recognizing personal blessings (housing, physical possessions, healthy relationships, safety, good health) and realizing how fortunate you are. Gratitude deepens and a sense of abundance ignites the drive to give back.

Mindful acts of service reveal purpose, identity, and happiness. PDF has taught me giving as self-care and motivates me to make positive change. And I know I’m not the only one. Many devote their lives to serving others, however it often takes a crisis to bring them to the forefront. Teachers, writers, and art therapists tend to the mental and emotional well-being of others. Custodians clean our buildings and cities, keeping us safe from disease, so especially important right now. Doctors and nurses risk everything for their patients—giving hope to the hopeless.

Throughout the pandemic, my thoughts have been with everyone that is pushing through and trying to make a difference from home or on the front lines. I know one day we’ll look back and ask others “How were you affected by COVID?” and many will proudly share what they did to help. 

So, to my fellow caregivers and friends in service, be strong. During this time of unprecedented fear and uncertainty, continue to keep the faith. Seek the reward within, and when you’re feeling fatigued, remember why you serve. Let your selflessness and consideration of others be a shining example to your community members, and the rest of the world will eventually follow suit.

And everyone at home, know that when you shelter in place, you are participating in an altruistic act of self-care and providing a service to those in your community, and by extension, the world. Quarantine isn’t a punishment; it is a way to protect the vulnerable. The only known safeguard (at the moment) is the simple practice of considering others. By our intentional conduct—and not some future cure—we have the power to heal ourselves and our communities.  

Thank you to Northwell Health for highlighting our work in Side by Side: A Celebration of Service This article was originally published April 2020. Updated July 2020.