No quarantine on good deeds amid coronavirus
In these uneasy times, helpers are everywhere if only we look for them. In central Ohio, in big ways and small, ordinary citizens are stepping forward to answer the call, helping neighbors, friends and strangers alike.
The two women walked up and down the street Wednesday, plastic bags in hand.
House by house, Ashley Kanney and Lia Pickel made their way down Cottonwood Drive in the Jerome Village neighborhood of Plain City and hooked a plastic grocery bag to door handles. Each bag had a flyer that showed a little red wagon stuffed with food. Included was a plea: “Help us help them!”
The “them” is hungry children.
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“I think everyone is feeling upside down,” said Kanney, a 37-year-old mother of three who, after coronavirus has altered our way of life the past 10 days, threw herself into this project to help others. “I felt this extraordinary need to do something meaningful immediately and I assumed others were feeling the same way.”
In less than a week, she has raised $11,500 for her newly created “Feed the Kids Columbus” organization that so far has gotten food bags filled with things including oatmeal cups and granola bars and boxed macaroni and cheese into the hands of 1,003 children in four Dublin elementary schools, one school in Groveport, and two in Columbus City Schools.
She realizes all school districts are trying to still feed children the best way they can while classes are on indefinite hiatus. But she said there are always gaps. So she and her core group of volunteers are trying to help fill them.
Hers is one just of hundreds — thousands, probably — of good deeds happening across central Ohio amid the coronavirus pandemic.
There’s a family putting a stash of jigsaw puzzles on their porch in Blacklick to help others ease isolation boredom; two dedicated community organizers who formed a massive online network called Mutual Aid Central Ohio to match those in need of anything with those who can give something; and Meals on Wheels volunteers who soldier on.
The goodness is everywhere, if only we look for it.
“When we think about a helper — someone tapping into that altruistic part of ourselves — those people tend to have a healthier mental state. They are happier. They are a little more content,” said LeeAnn Mattes, a licensed social worker who runs the Get Connected program at Mental Health America of Ohio.
“And right now, if we offer help, we can take back some control over a seemingly uncontrollable situation and feel a little more at ease.”
A friendly face
Bill Abbott climbed the four stairs of the Westgate neighborhood home and knocked on the door. No one answered.
But that’s OK. He is used to this. Some of the people he visits on his route as a Meals on Wheels driver with LifeCare Alliance take awhile to get to the door.
Cheryl Isennagle eventually answered.
“Oh, hello! I’m so happy to see you,” she told Abbott. He handed her the day’s offering — teriyaki chicken and noodles was the main course – and asked if she was all right.
Yes, she was.
She admitted, however, that she had been worried in this age of coronavirus that the meal-delivery service would stop.
“They do more than just deliver food,” the 73-year-old said. “They’re a friendly face.”
LifeCare Alliance has made changes to the program that serves 5,000 meals a day on 165 routes to shut-ins in multiple counties. The changes include not requiring people to sign for their meals (to limit contact) and drivers picking up food and paperwork outside the nonprofit’s headquarters in Franklinton.
But even in these uncertain times, not one of the agency’s thousands of volunteers have said they would stop delivering (though some who do this as corporate community service are prohibited by new work-from-home restrictions).
In fact, so many people who now find themselves with time on their hands are calling or showing up seeking ways to help that the organization is offering training daily instead of twice a month.
For the 79-year-old Abbott, it was business as usual Tuesday on his 23-mile route through the West Side – except for the pump-bottle of hand sanitizer in the cup holder of his Ford Escape.
“The people are grateful for us,” he said. “This is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I’m not going to stop. I’m just being careful.”
LC Johnson heard about the Ohio State University student — a young woman from the foster-care system whose position as a resident assistant helped her afford college — who was afraid she had nowhere to go once dorms closed.
But Johnson runs Zora’s House, a co-working and community space in the Weinland Park neighborhood for women of color. And she had room.
Typically, as many as five women can have short stays at the house for dedicated time on creative or entrepreneurial projects. Now, it’s been converted instead to offer a temporary respite to those in need.
On Tuesday, while working from home with her newborn and toddler fussing in the background, Johnson was furiously making connections and arrangements for the college student and a returning Peace Corps volunteer.
“How can we build that social net and safety net for folks who are going to be hit the hardest? That’s where we are focusing,” Johnson said. “I believe we all have a responsibility to help on any level that we can.”
‘Leaning on each other helps’
It was late Friday night when Allen Asbury saw a tweet from CNN about people buying groceries for their elderly neighbors. He immediately sent an email to fellow board members of the Olde Sawmill Civic Association on Columbus’ Northwest Side.
They mobilized a chain of volunteers who would pick up groceries and prescriptions for the elderly, people with limited mobility or those self-quarantining in their community of about 1,200 in the Sawmill/Hard/Smoky Row roads area, including an apartment complex
They set up a simple system for residents to send requests that are passed along to available volunteers.
The Olde Sawmill neighborhood has been around since the 1970s, and many original owners are still in their homes. The need would soon become clear, Asbury said.
“Everyone is looking for ways to help in this sudden and shocking process of self-quarantine,” said association President Ryan Bunner. “No one knows what to expect and we are all uneasy. Leaning on each other helps all of us.”
All of the organizations mentioned can be found on Facebook. LifeCareAlliance can be found online at www.lifecarealliance.org and the volunteer hotline is 614-444-MEAL. Zora’s House can be found at www.zorashouse.com.