William & Mary senior Caleb Rogers has been motivated to help others throughout his life. So it wasn’t a difficult decision to stay in Williamsburg during the current COVID-19 crisis and offer support to those in need.
“One of my favorite poems is by John Donne, ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls,’ and it’s one my parents have really espoused in my brother and me since we grew up,” Rogers said. “It says, to paraphrase, any harm that goes to a human diminishes me, because I’m involved in humanity.”
“So in a time like this, I think the question is, ‘What can I do to help?’”
Rogers organized a group of seven students who have volunteered to help residents by delivering food through Williamsburg Area Meals on Wheels.
Williamsburg Area Meals on Wheels distributes food to persons 18 and older who are unable to prepare their own meals because of a physical or mental impairment. Many of the recipients are elderly.
Rogers helped recruit the students through a group text chat with select William & Mary students who decided to stay in Williamsburg after all W&M classes were moved online due to COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, Williamsburg has a fair amount of poverty, and there's always a need to address that and see how you can help,” Rogers said. “So I sent a message saying, ‘Let's try to show this community what William & Mary can do,’ and the interest was there. I think that was more because of who William & Mary students are rather than any kind of convincing I did. Maybe people just kind of want to stand up in a situation like this.”
On Friday, Rogers, Elie Plaster ’20, Sam McIntyre ’20, Will Curtis ’20, Jonah Finkel ’20, Audrey Bell ’20 and Caroline Brown ’21 made their first deliveries. Each was assigned a delivery route and made drop-offs to 14 houses during a two-hour period.
They practiced good hygiene, wearing disposable gloves throughout the delivery process, and left the meals on doorsteps, being sure to maintain good social distance.
They picked up the sealed food packages from Williamsburg United Methodist Church. The food packages included hot meals and heavy bags of enough shelf stable food to last the recipients for three days.
“I think it is important to give back during this time because there are so many members of our community that are left extremely vulnerable,” Plaster said. “As an able-bodied person, it is the least I can do to assist these people who are likely frightened and overwhelmed by the daunting COVID-19 outbreak.”
“Community members who already had limited access to something as basic as a meal are those who are and will continue to be hit the hardest in this time,” she continued. “Everyone has to do their part to keep the community safe, and delivering meals is such a simple, easy way to have an impact.”
Cathie Upton, executive director of Williamsburg Area Meals on Wheels, said the students helped fill an immediate need for volunteers.
“Most of our volunteers are older and some are feeling very stressed right now, given the current situation,” Upton said. “To ask them to not only deliver hot meals but a heavy bag of shelf stable food would be unreasonable. These students are taking the shelf bags directly to the homes of our clients, which is not only a great physical help, but then our staff is also reassured that our elderly and most vulnerable have additional food items.”
In this time of social distancing, handshakes and hugs are out of the question, but Rogers said meal recipients found safe ways to show their gratitude.
“Many of the recipients immediately came to the door when we knocked and, while maintaining a good social distance, they expressed gratitude for Meals on Wheels and William & Mary students looking out for them in a time like this,” Rogers said.
Although his family lives in Charlottesville, Rogers has come to regard Williamsburg as home. His friends joke that he has become a “townie,” and he doesn’t deny it. He has already accepted a job in town following graduation and he is even running for a spot on the Williamsburg City Council.
Before COVID-19, much of Rogers’ time was spent on his campaign. He has shifted his focus during this current time of crisis.
“Really, how life has changed in the last few days is halting all aspects of the campaign that are here in Williamsburg and instead asking, ‘OK, what ways can we be of help?,” Rogers said.
Rogers says the efforts of these seven students are indicative of the spirit of the William & Mary student body at large.
“This is all a community effort,” Rogers said. “I just got a couple students involved, but I think the William & Mary student body as a whole feels the same way and wants to help. I think William & Mary students in general feel that community interest, and they care about this area.”
In addition to Meals on Wheels, Finkel recently donated canned foods, pasta, rice, beans, cereal and cleaning supplies to the Williamsburg House of Mercy.
“During times of hardship, it’s so easy to feel isolated and alone,” Finkel said. “Giving back to the community, in whatever form, provides a powerful avenue to see our interconnectedness as humans while allowing me to help others stay healthy and safe.
“Along with many of my classmates, I’ve always found volunteer work very meaningful, so getting involved in a program such as Meals on Wheels allows me to safely and effectively provide food security and compassion to those in need.”
With classes moved online and in-person extracurricular activities canceled, many William & Mary students are looking for ways to best donate their time.
“I think as students we tend to see our town as student centric and not think as much about the rest of the population,” Curtis said. “As a senior, being stuck both physically inside and emotionally going through a lot right now, I was hoping to find a way to remember my privileges and give back to the broader community.”