I’ve never done much volunteer work because I was always busy.
Plus, my theory was, I was more valuable pecking away at the laptop for dollars than getting in somebody’s way.
However, I have been in awe of a couple of new-generation doctors I know who volunteer in places like Haiti and Africa. And I saw my wife make a difference as a volunteer an orphanage in India.
Having more time these days, I signed up for a few hours of labor with some new friends from The New York Times plant in College Point, Queens. Ever since the production and delivery part of the paper moved out of W. 43 St. in 1997, I have missed the bustle of the trucks and the workers on the sidewalks and elevators and in the cafeteria.
Last week, Mike Connors, managing director of the Production Department, invited me to help pack food at the City Harvest warehouse right off the East River in Long Island City, Queens. Over 30 volunteers were given gloves and divided ourselves into two groups. One prepared bags of donated non-perishable food – bottled water, coconut water, canned tuna, dry cereal, beef jerky, packaged chocolate chip cookies, sardines, granola bars, tomato soup, beans, crushed tomatoes, pasta and anchovies. Anchovies!
I was advised by Ernie Booth, an executive at the Times plant, that my vast skills were urgently needed at the other job – shuttling oranges from refrigerator-sized cardboard boxes into bags that held 15-20 oranges, large and small.
I realized right away how much I enjoyed the teamwork – how individuals made room for each other, how they solved problems like getting oranges out of the bottom of the crates (tipping them and getting down on our knees, scooping with our forearms.)
Later I tried bagging the oranges, chatting with new friends like Deirdre Deignan, an official from the Times plant, and Andy Gutterman, the executive director from HR/Human Relations, and other volunteers, about sports and past jobs. We worked at a fairly intense pace, with a sense of purpose.
By late afternoon, most people had to go back to produce and deliver the next day’s Times. The City Harvest supervisors read off our output – 10,000 pounds of dry food, 7,000 pounds of oranges, eight and a half tons of food for dozens of eligible New York families with incomes under $60,000. week later, I look forward to spring when the NYT will do it again.
I urge anybody not to wait as long as I did to volunteer a few hours, somewhere. For information, please see:
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.