“As my mom and dad always say, ‘Le echamos más agua a la sopa,’ or “we will add more water to the stew.”
A friend messaged this quote when I shared concerns over how my husband’s once-solid DJ career had evaporated overnight as bars were shut down and weddings postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic. My friend is already caring for extended family members, but she still took the time to lift my spirits by offering to make room for us at her overflowing dinner table.
People are understandably scared and anxious to protect their families in these unprecedented times, which can make that urge to hoard toilet paper or make a run on gun shops contagious.
But kindness can also be contagious. And once you start looking, there are examples of people and organizations and businesses adding “more water to the stew” — stretching their resources, even when their own futures are uncertain — all over Southern California.
There’s Olivia Meme, who’s 25 and in her third year at UC Irvine Law School. She’s still doing remote classes, but her graduation ceremony has been canceled and plans to take the bar exam in July are up in the air. So she decided March 15 to launch Orange County Grocery & Supply Delivery to help get supplies to the elderly, immunocompromised and others in need.
“I’m learning as I go,” she confessed, having never organized such an effort before.
But within a few days of sending a Google form to her social media friends and colleagues at UCI, Meme already has more than 70 volunteers signed on to help. She’s collected more than $1,000 in donations to subsidize groceries for folks who are struggling. And she has her first 11 donations scheduled after reaching out to local senior centers and cancer support groups throughout the county, with plans to disinfect goods before they’re left on porches to avoid contact with vulnerable recipients.
“It’s been really nice to focus my energy on something positive and getting help out to people who need it,” Meme said.
That sense of usefulness is no small matter in times like this, according to Merritt Schreiber, a psychologist at UCLA Medical Center who specializes in mental health during emergencies. The Laguna Niguel resident spoke by phone from the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, in San Diego, where he’s been deployed as Americans have been quarantined there due to the coronavirus.
“When people offer things like food or child care, and others are receptive to that, it validates them and they feel important,” Schreiber said. “Especially in a context like this, in a pandemic, where people can very, very easily feel powerless.”
More importantly, Schreiber said the support that recipients feel from such gestures can make a significant difference in their ability to cope with what’s happening.
Even in the face of more typical disasters, such as fires or hurricanes, Schreiber said as many as three in 10 people who are directly affected go on to develop post traumatic stress disorder or depression. But solid social support, he said, can break that cycle. That includes material and service support, such as offers of groceries or childcare; informational support, making sure people have accurate facts about what’s happening; and emotional support, or “psychological first aid,” letting people know you’re there for them.
“They actually call that the ‘buffer impact’ of social support, and it’s probably the most single important thing we can do,” Schreiber said.
“So when communities band together and do those things, it has incredible significance… I think it’s what makes us strong.”
Many businesses are part of this cycle. Even as some struggle to stay afloat, they’re finding creative ways to help their communities.
The owners of Long Beach’s Portuguese Bend Distillery are using ingredients they have in stock to make hand sanitizer, which they give out in two-ounce bottles with every purchase of a bottle of liquor or $30 take-out order.
Through March 30, Galley Fish Tacos is offering free meals to kids 12 and under during regular business hours at its restaurants in Victorville and Apple Valley.
Katella Grill in Orange has stepped up efforts to get repurposed restaurant food into vacuum-sealed bags and then distributed to local food pantries, even though owner Mike Learakos said it’s operating at a loss each day.
“If we’re going to go down, then let’s do down doing something good,” Learakos said.
Pasadena’s Dots Cafe is giving away a case of toilet paper — from rolls it had in stock or can buy wholesale — to customers who buy a dozen cupcakes.
Between trying to keep the doors open at their three The Cupcake & Espresso Bar locations in Moreno Valley, owner Fadi Ballout and his wife are using paid staff, volunteers and donations from vendors to pack free sack lunches for area kids. So far, they’ve given out 300 sacks, with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches plus string cheese, and they hope to donate another 150 in a couple days.
“You know, everyone keeps talking about social distancing,” Ballout said. “But (the pandemic) also has kind of brought everyone together, and made the world a little bit smaller.”
There are safety considerations when trying to do a good deed during a global pandemic. A Pasadena couple tried to donate a box of 10 face masks they’d bought for $109 on eBay to a local hospital, but they said they were turned away because the hospital couldn’t be sure of the quality of the masks.
As much as the hospital workers “wholeheartedly appreciate the thought,” Terry Kanakri, spokesman for Kaiser Permanente Southern California, said they can’t accept donated medical supplies to protect the safety of their patients and staff.
Brandon Brown, a public health professor at UC Riverside who specializes in infectious diseases, said people shouldn’t let fear stop them from reaching out to their communities.
“I don’t believe in the mantra ‘no good deed goes unpunished,’ since we need to help each other more as human beings, particularly at this time.” But, he said, “during this pandemic we have to be extra careful, since help can lead to exposure.”
If someone wants to help babysit for a neighbor who needs to work while kids are out of school, for example, Brown said everyone involved should be frequently washing their hands, monitoring their temperatures and communicating if anyone feels sick. Or if someone wants to pick up groceries for others, they should leave them at the front door.
There are also plenty of “zero-risk” good deeds, Brown noted. These include checking on older neighbors who may be isolated, or calling out racist remarks, as Asian Americans and others increasingly have faced harassment since the pandemic began.
Or, people can teach a skill online.
That’s what Taha Daud, Zayn Siddique, Derek Wang, Camille McCurry, John Tai, Chelsea Wu and Luke Zhou — all 11th graders at Diamond Bar High School — have been doing since March 13, when their classes went on hiatus.
Daud said his group heard that their classmates were both bored and worried about falling behind in preparation for Advanced Placement tests and finals. So the seven friends formed an online tutoring center using Discord, a platform geared toward video gamers. They now have 71 students signed up for one or two-hour courses they’re each teaching six days a week on subjects including AP physics, calculus, English and history.
“We want to see good happen in our communities in times like these,” Siddique said.
As these students are proving, there are lots of ways that people of all ages can show kindness amid the pandemic. Here are some other ideas to get you started:
How to support friends, neighbors and strangers
-Consider forming a “Neighbor Pod,” where you collect contact information from neighbors and start threads so people can ask for help, offer resources and check in on each other.
-Pool resources and buy a month’s subscription to a meal kit delivery service for a friend who’s lost work.
-If you’ve got fruit trees or vegetables, hang bags of fresh produce on your fence or in front of your front door.
-Donate blood. Banks are seeing shortages, even though they have extra precautions in place to prevent virus exposure.
-If you’re a landlord who can afford it, offer to let tenants delay or even skip a rent payment.
How to support businesses and independent workers
-Buy gift cards for businesses that can’t stay open or that you’re not comfortable visiting right now.
-Keep paying for services you can afford, such as housekeepers and dog walkers, even if you can’t use them at the moment. Some businesses are offering perks for those who do, like gyms sharing online fitness classes while their facilities are closed.
-Order take-out or delivery from restaurants, focusing on local businesses. Many companies are waiving delivery charges; others are selling special meal kits to go.
-If you’re able, tip generously. And if you can’t order from your usual service workers right now, look for or launch a virtual tip jar.
-Get your birthday and Christmas shopping for the year done online now to give stores a boost.
-Consider “adopting” a local business or two, regularly frequenting them (online or through to-go services, for now) and pushing them on social media, to help them weather this storm.
Source: Orange County Register