Everything is Subject to Change, Notes from Polar Pack

May 2020

Everything is Subject to Change

I’ve been in TXCC for almost two years. One thing that I’ve learned from my many months of service is that, more often than not, we work on the fly. Projects change from week to week, sometimes even daily, and the prospect of deployment looms over the heads of our Disaster and Conservation Crews, promising to upend our schedules and plans at any given moment. My old field coordinator would print out a piece of paper during our many deployments last season with the words “Everything is subject to change.” Sometimes they would be accompanied by a picture of the Buddha. I was thus surprised to realize that in early March my crew had our projects scheduled out for weeks ahead. Three weeks building a trail at an Austin park, and a further three weeks on hitch near the Balcones Canyonlands. What luxury, to be able to plan out for work and personal life so far ahead, our project work cemented in the calendar.

Everything is subject to change.

Less than a week later, field operations shut down as the now infamous coronavirus began spreading in Austin. TXCC moved to teleservice, and now, 9 weeks later, I haven’t picked up a hand tool or seen the office since our last day of field operations. Now, more than ever, uncertainty and flexibility really is the name of the game for TXCC. For a few days we didn’t really know what was going to happen. As members huddled in their homes, I can only imagine a frantic convening (virtually, most likely) of staff, field coordinators, and directors discussing possible service options, administrators calculating funds, and the long-term viability of a prolonged quarantine.

More than two months later, there is still uncertainty, still confused, but life and service continue. We have been provided a smörgåsbord of teleservice and training options, from wildland firefighting and disaster management courses to citizen science and writing letters to first responders and senior citizens. Recently, a new phase of service has been opened up to many of our members, who are now participating in a “local deployment,” serving at various distribution centers and performing administrative tasks for Travis County. Other members have begun training for and initiating contact tracing as part of Americorps’ largest-ever disaster response activity. They join thousands of other AmeriCorps members across the country in an effort to track and slow the spread of the virus.

In many ways, this term has been unexpected, especially for my crew, Polar Pack. We started out with no co-leader, and we have lost and gained crewmates, more so than our sister crews. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, we are serving in ways that no other TXCC crews have served before. This term definitely didn’t pan out as I thought it would. On the other hand, this term has strangely embodied the very spirit of a Conservation and Disaster Crew: continued service in the midst of uncertainty. Though my crew has been through much, they are still getting things done. And I’m sure they will by now have learned the lesson I learned in my first year: Everything is subject to change.

By Polar Pack Crew Leader Carlos Leos

Covid-19 Response, Notes From ATLAS Crew

April 2020

CTFB Covid-19 Response Blog Post

The Central Texas Food Bank has always been a vital resource to the Austin community. In 2017, they provided healthy and shelf-stable food to over 200,000 individuals each month. Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, the organization has seen massive increases in the number of people who need help accessing food. Fortunately, they have also seen a steady stream of volunteers step up to meet that need.

A few weeks ago, I volunteered with the CTFB at one of their mobile pantry events in Buchanan Dam, TX. At around 7AM, I hopped in my car and took the scenic hour-and-a-half trip west into Texas hill country. When I arrived at the small church that was hosting the mobile pantry event, I noticed that nearly all the other volunteers were elderly. I learned that they were all members of the local Baptist church and that they had been busy hand sewing face masks for all the new volunteers that arrived to help. The community members were so friendly to me and very grateful that I had driven the long distance to come help. I quickly made some new friends, one of whom had traveled all over the world as a flight attendant in the 1960s! How cool is that?

Anyway, we all worked together to load boxes of pantry goods into CTFB clients’ cars. When the event was over, I left feeling great about the connections I had made and the work we had all done together. Since then, I have volunteered at several other CTFB events and I plan to keep on helping out as long as I can. Whenever I head out into the world, I wear the face mask that those volunteers crafted to keep me safe and remind me of the positive impact we made together.

-Angela Martin