In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, organizations and individuals are stepping up to take care of one another: donating meals to health care workers, donating baby supplies to those in need or simply handing out masks at a local grocery store.
In this article, we feature just a few of the local stories we’ve heard about people giving back and living the concept of tikkun olam.
Meals for healers
Sometimes, the best way to say thank you is with a hot meal and a moment of respite.
During National Nurses’ Week, Temple Emanuel of Tempe donated more than 200 meals to health care workers at Banner Gateway Hospital. The project came about thanks to the collaboration of donors, hospital administrators and local restaurant owner Jeff Flancer.
“Rabbi Dean Shapiro was thinking about how we might support businesses in our temple that are suffering economically, and at the same time, we’ve been thinking about things that will help our members feel empowered to be helpful,” said Gerri Chizeck, managing director of Temple Emanuel. “So we came up with the idea of asking people who own restaurants if they’d be willing to embark on a project with us to help contribute meals for people who work at hospitals.”
Flancer responded, saying that his restaurant Flancer’s would be happy to help by offering meals at a discounted price.
“We wanted to make it affordable because nobody’s feeling in this uncertain time that they want to give tons of money away,” Chizeck said.
Each lunch cost $10 with delivery, and Temple Emanuel received donations from $20 to $200. In total, the synagogue collected a little over $2,000.
“I think that our temple members who contributed felt really good about doing something, to be giving and feel like they could contribute in some way to solutions,” Chizeck said. “And I know other people are contributing in other ways, but I think this was one small thing we could do.”
Flancer’s employees made 50 to 60 meals each day for four days and delivered them to Banner Gateway Hospital, where meals were donated to a different team each day. Temple Emanuel coordinated the deliveries with Nicole Davey, senior administrative assistant to the COO at Banner Health.
“It means more than you know for our team,” Davey told Temple Emanuel. “This current environment has been a very fluid subject with frequent changes, and it can be challenging to keep up. This will be such a huge boost to our team.”
“It’s definitely empowering to feel like you’re making a contribution however small, doing a mitzvah, and to know that the people who are working so hard for us and risking their own lives, that some of them can have a moment of gratefulness or be recognized, means a lot,” Chizeck said. “And for our members, it’s uplifting to feel like they can do something without having to go out physically themselves, necessarily, and be at risk.”
For the little ones
Jewish Family & Children’s Service has seen their clients hit hard by the economic shutdown that followed the COVID-19 pandemic. “After the virus and the stay at home order hit, our clients were affected immediately with financial strain, job loss and a lack of being able to provide their own basic needs,” said Gail Baer, vice president of philanthropic services at JFCS.
Among the most in-demand items: diapers, baby wipes and baby food. Just as clients’ needs rose, however, social distancing measures forced JFCS to close most of their collection sites for donations.
“We’ve got several collection locations in the Valley at community centers and synagogues and some other public places that just immediately shut down,” Baer said. “So very rapidly, our ability to even get these supplies wasn’t available to us anymore. We very quickly had to convert our lobby space in our administrative office to now the only collection point, which proved to be not enough.”
Paul Rockower, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, reached out to Baer to connect her with leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Phoenix East Stake, which had items to donate to families in need.
They donated hundreds of cases of diapers, baby wipes, formula and baby cereal, which were delivered to JFCS locations throughout the valley for immediate use by the organization’s clients. For the families who receive those goods, the donation is a welcome lifeline.
“It immediately relieves the strain of not being able to provide for the little ones,” Baer said. “It removes so much stress, it removes anxiety and it’s just a welcome relief because a lot of them are unfortunately in survival mode at this point.”
Still, the need for donations isn’t over.
“What’s been happening is that as soon as things come in, they go out, so the need continues,” Baer said. “We have an emergency fund set up specifically to address the needs created by the virus, and we’re still collecting food and nonperishables and the items for the little ones.”
While Baer initially worried that uncertainty of the current situation would limit the community’s ability to step up and meet clients’ needs, the donation from the LDS church and the generosity of community members have proved to Baer that her concerns were unfounded.
“The community has really been extraordinary,” Baer said. “They showed up, they stepped up, they feel compelled to help, and what I’ve learned is that during this time people yearn for a purpose and doing things like this — whether it’s donating goods or money or time — gives people a sense of meaning. It’s important not only for those that we serve, but those people in our community that can help to be able to feel constructive in the midst of this tragic situation.”
Handing out masks
Even as masks become a common sight in grocery stores and on sidewalks, it’s still difficult to find them for sale in stores, and not everyone has a mask they can wash or reuse. At Madrona Hospice & Palliative Care, Monica McCullough, director of nursing, thought: With all of the masks the hospice has for staff and patients, why not help keep the community safe as well?
“As crazy as it sounds, it was because one morning on my mission to find toilet paper, I noticed that there was a lineup. And yes, people were social distancing, but there were an awful lot of people that didn’t have masks, and a good percentage of them were elderly. And we know that COVID is not friendly to the elderly,” McCullough said. “And I just thought, we’ve got masks, why can’t we share them and help keep people safe?”
Madrona Hospice employees are handing out surgical masks in front of grocery stores and Costcos, as well as to seniors and caregivers at assisted-living facilities and group homes. So far, McCullough said, they’ve handed out close to 1,000 masks.
“It’s something really small — we’re not flying overhead and dumping thousands of masks out — but we’re trying to do whatever we can to help people stay healthy,” McCullough said.
Even for those who already have masks, having an extra one can prevent masks from being reused.
“Somebody can never have enough of those surgical masks. They’re to be used one time, but because of shortages people are reusing them. And a lot of people are using the cloth masks, and those get awfully hot,” McCullough said. “We’re hoping just to be able to give people a backup, even if they have masks. We’re hoping that we’re providing people with resources that will help to make sure that they’re wearing them.”
McCullough herself has been handing out masks, and all but one person she’s talked to has been appreciative. One mom “was in tears she was so thankful,” she said. “It’s great payback.”
Her greatest concern is that even though it’s simple to wear a mask, and people are increasingly aware of the importance of wearing one to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the commitment to wearing one will start to wane as social distancing restrictions are lifted.
“The longer that this COVID goes on, we have a tendency to let our guard down, and I’m seeing that,” McCullough said. “People are starting to become complacent because it’s going on, and this isn’t making any difference, but it is making a difference … We can’t afford to get on a roller coaster and have another surge of increased numbers and increased deaths. We all need to do our part.” JN