Mar 30, 2020

Virtually overnight, every person and household in California woke up to a new reality with our shared coronavirus experience. There are 40 million of us in the “same boat.” With our home isolation, this is a time when “community” and “helping each other” really means something.

We are all part of many communities. It might be our extended family, our work, school, or neighborhood. It could be our place of worship or online social network. I’m the Executive Director of the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI). We’re a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting resilience in managing our natural resources. As we grappled with this challenge, we asked “How can we help each other” as a caring community.

Here’s a simple tool that we created for our 75-person “work community” to help each other that yours might also find helpful. This is a mapping tool, which we call Care in the Time of Corona. It helps us locate and efficiently provide the support that our SFEI staff might offer one another. Quite simply, it facilitates assistance within our organization so that people can help their colleagues deal with challenges of this unprecedented situation. The errands, food, medicine, or even compassionate discussion they need can be addressed through a convenient and filterable map.

This tool emerged from an idea expressed by staff members: how do we help each other when our symptoms render us unable to work, or for whatever reason, we need some support? How do we determine who might be available to lend a hand in closest proximity to each of us? It requires someone with some technical ability to use Google Sheets.

It is helpful for us. It may not be for everyone or every organization. Our staff live across the greater Bay Area and are comfortable with data and transparency. This tool makes it easier for people to help each other in these times of limited mobility. It avoids myriad organization-wide emails and the inefficiency and discomfort that those may bring.

Your organization must consider your size, geographic distribution of staff and culture in deciding to do something similar. We had some talented staff put this together, so we wanted to share this “build it yourself” guide if you feel it might work for you.

Care in the Time of Corona is a very simple solution. It solicits key information from would-be volunteers: their name, location, form of assistance they can provide, and their range of travel. Then, this information readily appears on a map, useful to those who need help, who can then contact their volunteer peers confidentially.

This is not complicated or expensive technology. Rather, it is simple and free. Consistent with our values about serving the public good, SFEI wants to share these resources. We believe that this model of small community support, with spatial awareness, can be replicated elsewhere, among community organizations, neighborhoods, corporations, teams, and any other affinity group who might want to leverage mutual aid during this challenging time.

To that end, we have prepared some basic implementation guidance suitable to anyone comfortable operating spreadsheets. No programming experience is required. We anticipate that following the provided instructions will take someone between 30 - 90 minutes to complete, depending on the desired customizations. We welcome you to read the Technical Guide.

We hope this guidance and the spirit behind it will help support your community and sustain a sense of well-being as we meet this challenge head on together.


Warner Chabot
Executive Director
San Francisco Estuary Institute

Programs and Focus Areas: 
Environmental Informatics Program