April showers bring May flowers. Funerals celebrate life. And life’s failures are fertile ground for future triumphs. Good things can indeed arise from unpleasant things by orders of magnitude.
In the depths of this coronavirus pandemic, it brings some solace to see simple acts of kindness polka-dotting our community like blossoming crocuses and budding forsythia. From quickly answered pleas for help on social media to the steadfastness of our medical community to simple, unsolicited acts of kindness from neighbors, this pandemic has been bringing out the very best of our community.
Why do we come to one another’s aid in a time of need? Why does trauma breed kindness? I called a high school junior who just created a new local charity on the fly to find out. It’s called Doorstep Deliverers: Free store-to-door volunteer deliveries for neighbors in need. Their motto: We’re here to lend a (gloved) hand.
“When we’re going through difficult times as a community, I think people tend to take a step back and look at their neighbors and see who needs help and how they can come to their aid,” Reed Lessing, 17, explained by phone. “And I think one finds that helping others is not that hard or complicated, and that it’s very meaningful.”
A part-time resident of Hillsdale, Reed was relaxing on spring break with her family when the nation woke up to the dangers of the coronavirus. “I didn’t have a lot to do, so I spent my time thinking about ways I could help the community,” Reed said. “I saw a lot of anecdotal stories on social media about seniors needing help with shopping. So I decided to start there.”
Within a week, she mapped out a contactless delivery system, designed and built a website, drew her own logo, made contacts at local markets, got the word out, recruited volunteers, and started helping people — mainly seniors in need.
Doorstep Deliverers has nearly 60 volunteers and is making roughly seven deliveries a day in Berkshire and Columbia counties so far, but the number continues to rise. She has a growing list of businesses she works with, including the Hillsdale IGA, Guido’s, the Berkshire Co-op, Random Harvest and Walgreens.
“It’s a simple solution,” Reed said. “But it matters and it’s meaningful. And hopefully it can help a lot of people.” Reed makes deliveries herself, but with her parents necessarily in tow: This young charitable entrepreneur only has a learner’s permit.
The speed and sincerity with which members of our community respond to calls for help are extraordinary. When I posted on a local Facebook community board that a local single mom needed sneakers for her kiddo, two moms responded within minutes, and two handsome pairs of sneakers were soon delivered to this mother in need.
When business owners realized that many schoolkids would still need the school-day meals they’d come to depend upon, local restaurants and groceries rapidly rose to the occasion: 51 Park in Lee is handing out free lunches for kids; the Tap House at Shaker Mill is offering free meals on Mondays to any child or adult in need; Bizen and Shiro are offering a free daily veggie roll for kids; West Stockbridge Public Market in partnership with Only in My Dreams is offering free lunches or dinners for those in need; and the Marketplace created a system in which anyone can pay for a meal to be donated to a family in need.
And then there’s the farm-fresh eggs on Salisbury Road in Sheffield given away for free, although donations for Volunteers in Medicine welcomed. “We have a surplus of eggs and there are a lot of people in need and people who are struggling who weren’t previously, so we figured, ‘why not put eggs out by the half-dozen for people to take what they need?’” explained Caitlin Marsden McNeill, who raises hens with her husband, Kip. “A few neighbors said that they really wanted to give me money for the eggs, so I thought about an organization that I admire and that does impactful work in medicine in the community. VIM can really benefit from donations, especially now. Someone came down from Egremont and gave me $20 for six eggs because she wanted to pay it forward.” In a few weeks, Caitlin and Kip hope to continue paying it forward by putting out veggies they’ve grown as well.
Kindness has been as contagious as spring fever. In need of a slew of new volunteers, the People’s Pantry put out a call to service. More than three dozen answered. Friends opened their homes for virtual Passovers on Zoom to those who otherwise would have spent seders alone. And the lonely and somewhat lonely have opened their hearts to increased animal adoptions because nothing beats loneliness like a new best friend. The Berkshire Humane Society remains open for adoption by appointment.
Perhaps it’s the time we have on our hands, but I suspect there’s more to it than that — simple eagerness to help, to connect, to be of immediate service during an unsettling time. When I saw a flyer for “Berkshire Mutual Aid mask collection” on a Main Street store window in Great Barrington, I called the number and got Eileen Ward, owner of Hey Day. “Is this Berkshire Mutual Aid?” I asked. “No, but I can connect you, or help you in any way I can,” she responded with a breathless authenticity. As for the newly formed charity organization of which she is a volunteer, Ward continued, “We just want to help.”
The strength and pull of that emotion is something that Michael Subklew, owner of M Designs Reupholstery of Sheffield, can attest to. With the help his son, Jean Paul, he is spending his days (and evenings) sewing not slipcovers, draperies or upholstery, but facemasks based on a World War II design and tweaked for modern times with the aid of his husband, Dr. Rudy Molina. They’re gorgeous and, given the times, I dare say luxurious. I stopped by to get one. They’re naturally soft with 100% hypoallergenic cotton and extra layers of felt batting for added protection, and all white so they can be washed with bleach and reused indefinitely.
Michael and Jean Paul have been working on their sewing machines for the past month, creating about 150 masks a day for free. Subklew estimates he’s given away several thousand. “There is a need,” he said. “And this is how I know I can help.”