Bikur Cholim of Baltimore is a volunteer-based organization, dedicated to Jewish patients and their families. Volunteers visit hospital patients, prepare and deliver kosher meals to hospitals and homes, transport patients to medical appointments, and lend medical equipment. While a lot of that has changed since the spread of COVID-19, volunteers are just as passionate as ever.
Coordinator of Family Services Bonnie Pollack explained that the pandemic has put a stop to many of their services, such as hospital visitation, some home visitations, and personal drivers. “I wasn’t going to put anyone in harm’s way,” said Pollack.
“It’s hard to get in the hospital; each one has made different arrangements about how we can do that,” she said. “As far as food drop-offs, we can work out ways. Some are letting up a little bit now, but it will be a long time” until things go back to how they were, if ever.
What Bikur Cholim of Baltimore needs right now is volunteers to call, instead of visit, hospital patients, she said.
“There is one very lonely gentleman who has been in the hospital for three weeks. No one is allowed to visit him,” Pollack said. “He has to sit alone all day for three weeks with no one to talk to, except the doctor.”
Despite the challenges, volunteers are finding different ways to help out.
One volunteer is Chaim Hochman, 55, of Baltimore, who delivers food for Bikur Cholim. He joined Bikur Cholim on his own almost 10 years ago.
“I was born and bred in Baltimore so I know a little of what’s going on and not going on [in the community] and what’s needed,” he said.
He recognized that Baltimore has many organizations to help others, and wanted to join in that service.
“People are happy to help and especially, I’ll say, it costs me no money to do it so I don’t know how people can’t offer to volunteer to drive early or late,” he said. “It’s easier to drive than write a check.”
He works full time, but he finds it easy to fit driving into his schedule either before or after work.
“I like to bring down meals to patients and I’ll use the word ‘on last minute,’ taking people to the hospitals to drop them off for surgery or an appointment,” he said. “I just think it’s great people doing great work in a needed situation.”
He noted that he wouldn’t call the work “enjoyable.”
“I feel bad. You hate to see someone in the hospital, especially if they’re little kids,” he said.
Gila Weg, 40, of Baltimore, has been a Bikur Cholim volunteer since 2012. She coordinates the drivers and food drop-offs.
“I started because my mother used to be a volunteer for Bikur Cholim. Someone approached me, and it was a time in my life when I wanted to contribute and do chesed, so it fit my schedule because it was flexible and it just worked out,” said Weg.
She most appreciates the organization when she can hear back from patients that they were grateful. “When you hear feedback that the food was something they were looking forward to, that during this traumatic time the food was something that was nice for them and they didn’t have to think about, it feels good to be part of an organization that is helping out people in a time of crisis,” she said.
Weg also thinks there’s something a little magical about Bikur Cholim. “I see continuous divine coincidence moments, like we have an extra driver on hand and then suddenly we need one for a last-minute call,” she said.
The volunteers aren’t the only ones who love Bikur Cholim of Baltimore. The love goes both ways. On their website, recipient Alberto Halwani explained in a video that he was not from Baltimore and didn’t know where to go when his baby was hospitalized. Bikur Cholim of Baltimore helped him find a Jewish neighborhood where he could rent a place, and “all the time, if we need anything like transportation,” Bikur Cholim was there.