“If you need help, you have to ask for it. Help is very rarely spontaneously volunteered, but it is often enthusiastically given, once it is asked for.”
This was a thought I posted on Twitter a little more than a year ago. It was inspired by a conversation I had with an old friend struggling through a rough period. It was clear through our conversation he was hoping someone would come to the rescue. I broached the topic of asking for help to which he coolly replied, “That’s not really my style.”
In the midst of the shared COVID-19 crisis and constant turmoil we all face together now, there are encouraging signs of help being asked for, help being enthusiastically given, and even evidence of help being spontaneously volunteered.
In a previous post I wrote about the businesses of Pike Place Market in Seattle working together, with vendors who were allowed to stay open also selling goods from those who were forced to close. They also worked together to devise new carryout and delivery services to increase current and future viability for all of the Pike Place dealers.
Stories like these are playing out in communities all throughout North America.
Rocket engineer and YouTube personality Destin Sandlin appealed to the Huntsville community of makers to respond to Madison County Medical Society’s call for help in regard to PPE, specifically face shields. Not only did Sandlin help coordinate the efforts, he also assembled a template including a how-to video, documents, and examples that any community could use to duplicate the amazing efforts the Hunstville Fighting COVID team has put forward.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
A group chat started by two sisters was the launch point for a service that matches volunteers with seniors, immunocompromised individuals, and others who are at too great a risk from Coronavirus to leave their homes to buy groceries and other critical supplies.
Sisters Kayla Newman and Leeat Hatzav intended to do all the shopping and delivery themselves, but word of their offer to help spread so quickly that they soon found themselves overwhelmed with requests. To help coordinate these requests as well as the additional volunteers needed to fulfill them, the pair quickly started a website. Requests, volunteers, and gratitude continue to grow daily.
Just days before stay-at-home and mandated social distancing became official in Texas, panic buying was at a peak and it was not unusual for employees at H-E-B, the (practically) official grocery store of Texas, to work long hours checking out customers and restocking shelves with little time to catch their breath, much less leave to grab lunch or dinner.
Enter another Texas institution to the rescue. A Whataburger location in New Braunfels loaded up a dozen grocery-store sized bags with burgers and more and delivered them to the nearest H-E-B location to make sure those employees were fed while they were working hard to make sure the rest of the city remained fed.
DARTMOUTH, NOVA SCOTIA
Due to Canada’s COVID-19 measures, Doug Townsend and Rene Lavallee were forced to close their 60-seat restaurant in downtown Dartmouth and reduce their staff down from approximately 30 to only 3. They may have been forced to temporarily close their business, but that didn’t mean they had to close their kitchens.
Longtime supporters of their community’s Food Centre and Family Centre, the husband-and-wife team knew that the same COVID-19 restrictions that forced their closure would also mean a drastic reduction in the volunteers both centres relied upon to prepare and package meals to feed those in need.
Townsend and Lavallee along with the three employees who remain have remained in the restaurant’s kitchen assembling between 300 and 400 meals each week to assist the community facilities hit their target of 500 takeout meals and 200 packages of emergency food.
When asked about the efforts, Lavallee responded that she and her husband had the space and the know-how to get the job done and that right now was the time for them to focus on supporting their community.
Between SXSW, the BNP Paribas Open, Coachella, and several other marquee events, Ryan Choura of Choura Events had 2020 all lined up. Then, in only a matter of days, Choura’s entire 2020 slate had been cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
Staring at an employee-base of 200+ and a cancellation of virtually all of his company’s anticipated revenue, Choura saw a way to keep at least some of his employees working and provide help that was desperately needed. With the ability to basically construct a mini-city (tents, generators, HVAC, raised flooring, staging, lighting, restrooms and washrooms, etc.), Choura Events was uniquely qualified to assist overwhelmed medical facilities.
Choura told the Los Angeles Times, “It’s bringing good into a really bad situation. I’ve been more fulfilled over the last few weeks than over the last decade. It’s very meaningful to feel like you’re part of saving a life.”
PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND
As with the Pike Place Market example that started this list, combining efforts can often help all involved. Such was the thought process for Eric Weiner when he launched a series of Virtual Food Truck Nights in Providence. During each event, roughly a half-dozen local establishments are featured with food trucks parked outside of their sister restaurants. The online menus are shared, and each virtual attendee can choose their order and then drive to the location for a no-touch pickup. They then bring the real food back to their homes where they rejoin the virtual event with the other attendees and also enjoy streaming live music from local bands.
In addition to turning local carryout into a community-based virtual event, each participating food truck also adds a special $5 item to their menu for the event. Called the Healthcare First Responder Meal, the donations are banked for healthcare workers and first responders to access at any time by texting their order to the participating establishments.
With the first Virtual Food Truck Night enthusiastically attended, Weiner plans to keep the event going weekly until restaurants are able to reopen their dining rooms.
Last week, I popped into our neighborhood H-E-B to get one item and unexpectedly found they had a number of items back in stock we had been previously unable to buy. Since I had planned on only grabbing one thing, I didn’t have a cart or even a handbasket. Instead I loaded up my arms with everything I could carry – plus a few items – and made my way to the checkouts. I resembled a walking game of Jenga and just as I made it to the lanes, the wrong piece jostled loose and my entire tower of grocery items crashed to the floor.
The husband from a couple who had witnessed the spectacle rushed over to give me a hand and help me get it all safely to the checkout. There’s no doubt I needed the help, but it was spontaneously and enthusiastically volunteered before I even had the opportunity to ask for it. This during a time when many people were apprehensive about even making eye contact out in public.
There were a number of the unexpected items I found that night at the grocery store, but the freely offered help was the most valuable.
The stories I’ve shared above are just a small sampling of the good being done in every community effected by COVID-19. As we all continue to make our way through this shared crisis and rapidly changing circumstances, everyone is forced to make sacrifices. While some people choose to focus on the sacrifices they have to make, it’s those individuals who choose to focus on the sacrifices they can make who will ultimately emerge from this disruption with an expanded perspective and a deeper appreciation of what it means when help is asked for, enthusiastically given, and spontaneously volunteered.Individuals who focus on the sacrifices they CAN make instead of HAVE to make will ultimately emerge from this disruption with an expanded perspective and a deeper appreciation of what it means when help is asked for,… Click To Tweet
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SOURCES AND FURTHER READING:
LOS ANGELES: https://jewishjournal.com/culture/community/313587/sisters-start-pandemic-grocery-assistance-program/