Creative Volunteering During Social Distancing RSVP Volunteers Continue to Meet Community Needs

(Estherville, Iowa) Northwest Iowa Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) volunteers, all 55 or older, fit into the vulnerable population definition of COVID-19 and frequently serve vulnerable populations from young children to seniors. Since late March 2020, Northwest Iowa RSVP suspended the usual volunteer activities to help protect volunteers, staff, and clients. As a result, dedicated RSVP volunteers found creative ways to meet community needs by shifting focus, discovering new demands, and reviving skills to use safely from home during the pandemic.

During COVID-19, 2362 RSVP volunteers throughout Iowa have served our local communities with many safety measures and often from home for a total of 21,658 volunteer hours from March through May. This volunteer service is worth a monetary value of $507,014 based on the Independent Sector’s valuation of $23.41 per hour of volunteer time for 2018.

Northwest Iowa RSVP volunteers are serving the community by writing letters to long-term care facility residents, providing Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) counseling via telephone, serving at the Kossuth County Food Pantry, providing Clay County Home-Delivered Meals, assisting with American Red Cross blood drives and continuing to sew masks and quilts for those in need.

The Emmet County Historical Society’s Museum library is updated and organized due to the extra time volunteers have while the Museum is closed to guests. Some RSVP volunteers are making reassurance and check-in phone calls with family, friends, or neighbors while others are picking up and delivering groceries for seniors sheltering in place.

RSVP volunteers involved with Pen Pal programs in area schools have continued with student pen pals or have shifted their skills in storytelling and making social connections with residents in area nursing homes.

Even though residents in care facilities have connections through staff and fellow residents, social isolation from family and friends amplified due to COVID visitation restrictions.

Volunteers, and even some pets, have come to the rescue by bringing joy and humor to those in need. In most facilities, the letters contributed by volunteers are shared by staff, often with multiple residents who may need a laugh or a pick-me-up. In some cases, volunteer authors provided numerous copies of letters to reach more residents with day-brightening notes.

Some clever authors among the RSVP volunteers included jokes for readers, while others wrote with imagination. Lulu, a furry companion of one volunteer, joined in the fun by composing a letter and adding her photograph. Lulu’s human said, “I just thought Lulu could bring a smile to someone by describing her typical day.”

The Northwest Iowa RSVP volunteer program invites anyone 55+ to join in making a positive impact in our community during this time of need. To join RSVP, please contact Dawn Bernhard, Northwest Iowa RSVP Director, at

Lulu's letter

Letter from Lulu, an Honorary RSVP volunteer and a dog
Sent to Residents in Care Facilities to Help Ease Social Isolation with Humor

For More Information:

For more information, please contact RSVP Dawn Bernhard at 515.295.8522 or