Acts of kindness have restored hope in our community during COVID-19.
The far-reaching impact of the novel coronavirus was for a while difficult to grasp, and perhaps it still is for many as we heed orders to shelter in place and keep to ourselves. School campuses sit eerily quiet, shop doors remain locked and delivery vehicles shuttling food orders from restaurants to residences populate the roads. For some people, COVID-19 has cost them their health, their jobs, their businesses. For most, it has taken normalcy and replaced it with uncertainty, maybe even fear.
But in the shadow of the virus we have seen light. We have seen neighbors helping neighbors and strangers helping strangers, people putting the resources they have toward helping another family with basic needs. We have seen the emergence of help exchange pages on social media, and heard of unsung heroes calling to check on elderly residents who can’t leave their homes. It’s these acts of kindness and gestures of support in our community we cling to for hope in this challenging time.
As the virus ramped up and prompted the closure of all public schools in mid-March, Vineyard Family Services jumped into action. VFS provides local students with nutritious food they can take home on the weekends and long holiday breaks, filling the gaps when children don’t have access to their schools’ free and reduced meal programs.
But the organization knew students wouldn’t be the only ones affected by food insecurity. “We have families with lots of children, and everybody is not being able to work,” Program Director Stephanie Grissom says. Along with the buddy bags, VFS focused on assembling more of their family emergency food boxes and hygiene bags. Volunteers have helped load and unload bags and boxes for deliveries, and donors have ensured VFS’s ability to purchase needed supplies doesn’t falter.
And help has come from people of varying ages, even children. Local twins hosted a food drive recently and, in lieu of birthday presents, asked for food and financial donations for BackPack Buddies. “You put a smile on our faces,” reads a post on the VFS Facebook page.
FEEDING THE PEOPLE
Knowing his slogan is “feed the people,” we weren’t surprised when Chubbfathers restaurant owner Will Cholewinski’s name came up in conversations about who was mobilizing resources for families in need during the pandemic. Will turned his Alabaster and Clanton restaurants into drop zones for food donations to distribute immediately to families trying to make ends meet and keep food on the table.
Will issued a call for donations, urging people not only to give what they can but to let anyone in need know that help is nearby. We’re just trying to do whatever we can do,” Will says. “We’re going to get through this together.”
Pelham resident Kylie Anderson took it upon herself to buy and organize supplies to hand out at different locations in the area—and to deliver right to people’s doorsteps, if necessary. “I’ve driven to a lot of people’s homes and dropped off supplies at their doors,” she says. Her mind goes to people battling cancer, elderly people, single moms—people who can’t leave their homes.
Kylie has distributed everything from toilet paper to water to snacks to soap, checking multiple stores in the area to find certain items that sell out quickly. And as she made her supply runs, Kylie noticed the struggles store employees are facing while trying to do their jobs. “I’ve seen the way some of these retail employees have been treated, and it’s really hurting my heart,” she says. “I’ve heard people cussing at them and calling them names, and I just really wanted to lift them up.” So she bought treats from a local business and delivered them to these people, thinking she could lift their spirits and remind them that what they’re doing is appreciated.
City of Columbiana employee Dale Lucas wanted to help elderly and immunocompromised residents somehow during COVID-19. What better way than through food? Dale and a group of volunteers collected more than $1,000 in donations to purchase Boston butts from Piggly Wiggly, and then stayed up all night one night cooking them before delivering them to people’s houses the next afternoon. Hearing how grateful they were for the free, home-cooked and hand-delivered meat, however, was worth missing some sleep. “We’re just a group of people trying to help out,” Dale says. “It went really well.”
KEEPING THEM COVERED
A shortage of medical masks for health care workers prompted locals to put their ingenuity and resources to work. Deedra George, owner of By George screen printing, embroidery and alterations shop in Helena, rounded up her materials and staff and launched a mask-making operation. “Things change on a daily basis, so we’re just trying to be flexible and take care of as many people as we can,” she says. “It’s a good distraction for me, to not dwell on the bad stuff and try to do something positive.”
Similar efforts took off in Montevallo, too, when a group of University of Montevallo employees partnered to combat the national shortage of personal protective equipment, including face masks. After reading about people using 3D printers to create PPEs to donate to health care facilities, Michael Price, the Digital Media and Emerging Technologies Librarian at UM’s Carmichael Library, reached out to Shelby Baptist Medical Center in Alabaster, which said it would be happy to accept the 3D printed face masks. Michael then contacted his colleague Kyle Moore, assistant professor of theatre at UM, who also had access to a 3D printer.
The duo received support from Dr. David Callaghan, chair of UM’s Department of Theatre, Carmichael Library Director Dr. Charlotte Ford and UM Associate Professor of Theatre Emily Gill, who helped to secure material to use for straps on the face masks. The group set a goal to print and deliver 50 ready-to-use face masks to the hospital.