The mutual aid group connects volunteers with people who need help getting groceries, medication, or other supplies. (Sitka Mutual Aid Facebook page/Screenshot)

In what feels like the blink of an eye, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought much of daily life in Sitka to a grinding halt. Schools are closing for an additional week after spring break, many businesses have suspended operations, and restaurants are barred from offering in-person service.

Amid this turmoil, many groups are stepping in to offer assistance. One of those is the Sitka Conservation Society, which put together a mutual aid group to help support residents who aren’t able to leave their homes, or who need financial support. 

Chandler O’Connell is coordinating the effort. 

“Keeping a roster of volunteers who’ve signed up and a roster of folks who have requested help, and I’m literally matchmaking between those two lists and looking through whose needs and whose offers align,” she said.

For example, if someone is in quarantine, they can ask for someone else to pick up groceries or medication and drop them off at the doorstep. O’Connell provides all volunteers and recipients with guidelines on sanitizing and maintaining social distance. 

The group is also offering limited financial assistance for buying groceries, but that’s a short term solution. 

“The financial support we’re providing right now, we really view it as a stopgap measure,” O’Connell said.

The hope, O’Connell says, is that state and federal aid will cover the financial assistance needs in town. Then, the mutual aid group will shift its focus to the primary goal of connecting Sitkans who can be of service to each other. 

“Deliveries and transportation and dog walking and other forms of service we can provide each other as community members,” she said.

Dozens of volunteers signed up within a couple days of launching the group, and by Thursday [3-19-20] had fulfilled around 20 requests, mostly involving help buying and delivering groceries. 

The forms to request or offer assistance can be found on the Sitka Conservation Society website. Donations to go toward grocery purchases can be made at sitkamutualaid.com.