Mason Social Work Students Take Action Amidst Pandemic to Connect Community with Needed Supplies

Photo Credit: Emily Bartenfelder, BSW '20

Photos to the right capture community members helping one another during the pandemic. 
Photo Credit: Emily Bartenfelder, George Mason University BSW '20

Rachel Pinon, senior in the Social Work program, helps others during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senior Maricza Hinnah is connecting Northern Virginia residents with needed supplies via Facebook.

In the midst of panic shopping due to COVID-19, Rachel Picon and Maricza Hinnah (BSW '20) help those in need of high-demand supplies.

Rachel Picon and Maricza Hinnah, two seniors in the Department of Social Work at Mason's College of Health and Human Services, created a Facebook page, “Northern VA COVID-19 Craziness Supply Exchange.” The community in Northern Virginia, along with the rest of the country, has been struggling to find basic household necessities such as toilet paper and hand soap. Photos of empty shelves have been featured on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, as frustrated citizens go from store to store hoping to find what they need.

Community members pick up toilet paper

Community members helping one another during the pandemic. Photo Credit: Emily Bartenfelder, George Mason University BSW '20

Picon and Hinnah created the supplies exchange Facebook page on March 13, 2020 to support the community of Northern Virginia and “to be a resource and safe place during this time.” They now moderate the burgeoning 7,266 members and 1,482 posts. The page is open to anyone.

“This is a friendly, no judgement zone. If you are shy or embarrassed to post something you need, direct message me or Rachel,” says Hinnah, “and we will find a way to get you whatever it is you need.”

To ensure safety and trust, the group has standard rules that maintain order and restrict wrongdoings such as price gouging, hate speech, political posts and spam. Fair trades, resale of items and donations of goods is permitted within the group. With so many active members, people with unmet needs due to panic buying have been offered a source of relief and support.

Once the Facebook group gained significant traction in the community, Picon and Hinnah realized, “by submerging [ourselves] in the acts of service and empowering the community to help each other we found we were curbing our own anxieties as well.”

The news of our Mason students taking initiative and inspiring good has spread to several news outlets, including Fox5, and InsideNova. During these extraordinary times of uncertainty and anxiety, there is a silver lining found in communities of people who come together to lift one another up.

When asked about their inspiration to start the Facebook Group, Picon responded, “We originally thought, what about the elderly or the people with financial insecurities who may not be able to stockpile things or have access to basic items?”

Community member picks up bottled water

Community members helping one another during the pandemic. Photo Credit: Emily Bartenfelder, George Mason University BSW '20

Social justice is a core concept in the Social Work program at Mason.  In fact, in an email to all students earlier this month, Dr. Emily Ihara, interim chair and faculty in the Department of Social Work, said, “For generations, social workers have emphasized economic and social justice, human rights, and equity in our work and commitment to the most vulnerable among us. As we navigate the ever-changing terrain over the next several weeks, please remember to take good care of yourself and your families by following good public health practices, use your critical thinking skills to identify reliable sources of information based in science, and think creatively about how to promote social work values in your neighborhood and community.”

And her students, Picon and Hinnah, did exactly that.  “We want everyone to know that one person reaching out to just one other person to perform an act of kindness is where we can make an impact and where change truly becomes the power of every American,” said Picon and Hinnah. Both women plan to pursue Master’s in Social Work degrees at Mason after they graduate to continue serving others.

-- Written by Nicole Cummings
-- Photo Credit for Pictures Above: Emily Bartenfelder, George Mason University BSW '20