I hope you and your family are good. That’s the most important thing.

I also hope you are doing everything you can to make sure that others are good too. That means keeping your distance, staying away from other people, and doing what you can to help those who are unable to help themselves.

We’ve been hunkered down in our home for most of the last week. To get some exercise and time outdoors, Amy has organized daily family hikes in the Franklin mountains. Yesterday we rode our bikes down to the track at El Paso High to race each other in the 400 meters (Ulysses won) and compete in the long jump (Ulysses again). We’ve also been watching movies at home (Lord of the Rings on Netflix), reading, playing board games and catching up by phone with friends.

We’ve been checking in on older neighbors and family members to see if we can pick them up food or groceries. So far no takers. My mom is stubborn.

First week of full-on social distancing has been OK for us, balancing outdoors and indoors, sometimes getting on each other’s nerves and sometimes cracking each other up. But we’re very lucky to be safe, healthy and to have each other. Important to remember that.

Our friend Gwen works with the local food bank and let us know that they are having a hard time meeting their volunteer needs. So yesterday we all went down to El Pasoans Fighting Hunger and helped pack boxes for distribution to the elderly, necessary now that the local senior citizens centers are closed. We tried to maintain six feet distance from other volunteers, wore gloves and washed hands again anytime we touched our face or our phones. We packed boxes full of rice, flour, canned fish, beans, canned pears and nuts. We competed to see how many we could get done in an hour and then tried to beat that record the next hour. We also got to see other people (at a distance) for the first time in days. It was the best thing we’ve done since we’ve been isolating ourselves from others and we’re going to volunteer again soon. There’s a good chance your local food bank could use your help, call them to find out.

A lot of you have been getting in touch to share your stories about what you’ve been up to this past week and what you’re doing to get prepared for the weeks to come. Homeschooling, hunting for toilet paper (Cynthia hasn’t been able to find any in El Paso but has an Amazon order coming in this April), and figuring out how you’re going to make ends meet.

Some are working in hospitals and clinics, like my sister Charlotte (El Paso), Amy’s sister Christina (New York), and our friends Debjeet (D.C. area) and Rob (Seattle). You’ve described to me what it’s like to be on the frontlines of this, without having the necessary tests, protective gear and equipment. It’s been inspiring to see your determination to take care of the people in your community, despite these serious challenges. And it reminds us that we have to keep up the pressure on our government to deliver — there’s no excuse for this kind of failure to test those who are sick and protect those who treat them.

Others have shared stories of sick family members. A friend from Lubbock wrote:

“My mom is 67 has a severe immune disease, a 101 degree fever and been coughing her lungs up.  She went to the doctor in Lubbock today (lives in Crosbyton) and they sent her home with an antibiotic and no test!!!! Everyone says they don’t have them.”

Another friend whose restaurant we’ve been to in Austin told me he’s having to close for at least a month and is frustrated with the lack of state and federal leadership that has left so many who live paycheck to paycheck, including his employees, with nothing. I am hopeful that whatever comprehensive federal stimulus program that is finally signed into law will take into account those in the food service and hospitality industries, as well as so many other affected small businesses and employees.

These are not easy times, but we will get through them. Please continue to be smart — keep your distance from other people and avoid gatherings — and please keep your spirits up. Find a way to volunteer, help, or donate to organizations and people in need. As my friend Noah says, “it’s hard to be sad when you’re being useful.”

My best to you and your family —


Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows Beto O’Rourke standing with the border between El Paso and Juárez behind him. (Photo credit: Benjamin Rasmussen/TIME).

Editor’s Note: The above guest column first appeared in a newsletter sent out by Beto O’Rourke.