NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

NIH Postdoc Helps Neighbors in Need at Parkside

Dr. Pablo Vidal-Ribas Belil
Dr. Pablo Vidal-Ribas Belil

While most people are heading to the grocery store or pharmacy as infrequently as possible these days, if at all, Dr. Pablo Vidal-Ribas Belil is going quite often. 

Vidal-Ribas, an NICHD postdoctoral fellow researching early predictors of suicide mortality, is busy helping vulnerable people in his spare time during the COVID-19 pandemic. He and a team of volunteers have been picking up essentials for neighbors who are elderly, have immunosuppressive conditions or are currently sick and living alone. 

When Vidal-Ribas, a clinical psychologist, first came to the United States 4 years ago, he arrived at NIH as an NIMH predoctoral fellow and settled into Parkside Condominium, a community with more than 800 units in North Bethesda. When the COVID-19 outbreak began, Vidal-Ribas left notes on a few neighbors’ doorsteps, offering his help.

Soon after, he and another concerned resident launched a neighborhood coronavirus task force. They hold virtual meetings with a growing group of volunteers and created a system to track and fill requests for their neighbors’ groceries and prescriptions.

The community already had a group that helped neighbors with shopping, but most of these volunteers are high-risk individuals who now need help themselves. 

Volunteers have gotten the word out by circulating flyers and coordinating outreach with the Parkside management office. Residents in need can email or call in their requests. To stay as safe as possible on these errands, volunteers shop for multiple residents at a time to minimize outings and follow CDC safety, sanitizing and distancing guidelines.

Wearing a mask, Vidal-Ribas stands in the produce section of a grocery store.
NICHD postdoctoral fellow Vidal-Ribas on an outing to pick up groceries for four neighbors

“We noticed that most of the people requesting grocery items really want to talk,” said Vidal-Ribas. “Some have cried on calls too,” which made him realize many could also use emotional or social support. 

“People of all ages are feeling anxious, though seniors may feel particularly isolated and disconnected amid the current physical distancing,” said Vidal-Ribas, who decided to expand the group’s  offerings to include virtual chats and other activities. 

Helping his neighbors has been rewarding. “This is one of the things keeping me grounded right now, just having the sense that I can help,” he said. “We have volunteers of all ages. I got especially emotional after a man in his 70s, who is himself a high-risk individual, joined the group as a volunteer. He can’t go shopping but he offered to manage the data entry. We also have a talented teenager who offered to give music concerts remotely.”

It’s heartwarming that more and more Parkside residents are inquiring about how they can help, said Vidal-Ribas. “It really brings back your faith in humanity.” 

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

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