No one had ever attempted in modern memory to blanket the entire City of Boston with printed literature in just a few hours’ time, but that’s exactly what happened on Saturday, March 21, as volunteers fanned out all over Charlestown and the rest of the City to drop accurate COVID-19 printed information on every doorstep.
“This has never been attempted before except for maybe in a political campaign, but even something like that has never been seen on this scale,” said Charlestown Mayoral Liaison Quinlan Locke early on Saturday in Doherty Park. “Our goal is to get this out to every resident in Boston today, including every resident of Charlestown. We are responsible for Charlestown and we’re going to go to every door we can.”
Volunteers in Charlestown gathered at Doherty Park and the Harvard Kent School. They were provide gloves, hand sanitizer and a bag of literature – which was a full-sized pamphlet of accurate COVID-19 information printed in five languages. Each volunteer worked at a distance with a partner to drop the literature on each door, but without really engaging closely with anyone they encountered.
Resident Rose Lincoln said she decided to come out on Saturday despite the worry of the pandemic because her City needed her.
“I heard the mayor on the radio speaking on Friday,” she said. “He seemed overwhelmed and stressed with all of this. He mentioned this effort and I figured I could help him in this way. I think it is invaluable.”
Meanwhile, on Auburn Street, Russell Street and Oak Street, resident Jesse MacDonald said he wanted to support the leaders in Boston who were trying their best to do the right things to keep people safe and healthy.
“The City and state are doing the best they can given these circumstances,” he said. “I think we have an obligation to help each other out. There is plenty of information out there, but not everyone is connected to the Internet. Those who are might be getting misinformation. There’s plenty of that out there. With all the criticism we give out politicians and municipal workers, theirs is the job no one wants right now. No one would want to do what they have to do now. Given that, it’s just an obligation I felt to help. I love this city.”
State Rep. Dan Ryan said he was grateful for the effort by the mayor and his team under extreme circumstances.
“I want to thank Mayor Walsh and his team for coordinating such an effort under the circumstances,” he said. “People are feeling the need to help their neighbors. Last Saturday provided an opportunity to volunteer in a controlled and responsible manner. Residents need consistent information from reputable sources. They now have that with very limited human interaction. This crisis has changed dramatically even in the last five days, however. Government and the medical community need to be trusted right now. Stay home, tune in or out, but use the structured resources provided to you as a guide for your actions. Do not listen to my, ‘brother-in-law got a friend who said [fill in the blank]’”
Jerome Smith, chief of Neighborhood Services, said last week they were watching so much misinformation spread about COVID-19, and also were encountering a lot of people who didn’t have access to information channels. Working with Mayor Martin Walsh, they decided to try to mobilize City government and volunteers to combat that problem in the response chain.
“We were seeing so much bad information out there and hearings tons of misinformation in particular about the City shutting down and the state shutting down,” he said. “The mayor said we just had to get information out. We had put information on Facebook and on the web every day. Ultimately, the mayor and I agreed we just needed to go door-to-door but not have groups going door-to-door. We needed to hit every door and we began to make it happen. In one week we had two printers working on the pamphlet and looking for volunteers.”
At first, he said they were nervous about volunteers. They were worried they wouldn’t get enough to carry out the job, and they were also worried they would have too many volunteers – thus violating the social distancing advisory. All of the effort, of course, had to be done in tandem with other people, but not at a close distance.
“We wanted 1,000 volunteers and we put out the word that’s what we were looking for to hit the whole city,” he said. “In one day, we had 500 volunteers sign up. After hitting city councilors and elected officials and their networks, we were able to easily get our 1,000 volunteers. It turned into a great thing.”
While volunteers from the City, state and community hit the streets with the literature, pre-arranged employees from senior housing developments and Boston Housing Authority (BHA) properties took delivery of the pamphlets and delivered them door-to-door in all of those buildings. That effort finished up late on Monday afternoon.
“It really has been a different experience for me, but an amazing experience too,” he said. “We were able to get the entire city dropped by 3 p.m. From 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. we used volunteers to fill in the gaps. I appreciated all the coverage we got and especially our volunteers. We really have to do this together. To combat misinformation residents need to go to trusted sources…We needed to provide that in print and we did. It was very important.”