Acts of kindness
The worst of times has brought out the best in many local residents
“A gal in my neighborhood is doing outdoor yoga classes (six feet plus apart). Instead of charging, each attendee is making a donation to a food bank. It was very fun, very peaceful and nice community building in the midst of all this crazy.” —Cheryl Leahy, Bethesda
Here to Help
Early in the COVID-19 crisis, Cora and Francisco Cartagena posted a note on the listserv for The Promenade, a high-rise community in Bethesda where they’ve lived for three years. The couple offered to help seniors in the building with their smartphones, computers or TVs, and said they could also pick up food or medications.
We can coordinate via call/text for drop off right outside your door, they wrote. There is absolutely no cost for any of these services.
Cora, 33, has a master’s of public health from the University of Maryland; Francisco, 29, is getting his master’s in cybersecurity from UMBC at The Universities at Shady Grove. Both have full time jobs—Cora works at the NIH; Francisco works for the City of Gaithersburg—but they knew that many of their neighbors are older and some live alone. The response was immediate. One senior needed help finding his Wi-Fi password. Another man ordered a stationary bike online after the gym shut down, but he couldn’t put it together. So the couple assembled the bike and carried it to his apartment. “I wanted to make sure that it was sanitized before I gave it to him,” Cora says.
Some neighbors sent grocery lists and prescriptions. At first, Cora and Francisco would do the shopping. Then they started using the pharmacy drive-thru, placing orders in advance from Whole Foods or Balducci’s, or giving neighbors quick tutorials via FaceTime. “Now, instead of going into grocery stores, we’re trying to help them learn to shop online because they’re not experienced with Amazon Prime and such,” Cora says. “At times, neighbors sound really nervous on the phone.” Her own mom lives by herself in Gaithersburg. “My mother told me she feels afraid at times, so I can only sympathize with my senior neighbors here if they’re feeling anywhere like my mom is feeling.”
One resident asked for help with his computer. “The operational system was done,” Francisco says. “I told him that over FaceTime, and he was like, ‘I work from home so I need a device ASAP.’ ” Francisco ran to the Apple store, picked up an iPad Pro, set it up with gloves on—“which is very challenging,” he laughs—cleaned it, and left the box at the man’s door.
The couple has received texts and voicemails from neighbors expressing their gratitude, and one left a handwritten note. Cora gets to see some of her neighbors from a distance. “Some of the senior neighbors are coming out to their balconies and windows for a wave at 5 p.m.,” she says. “I thought it was such a fun idea. Someone else mentioned it and I was like, ‘I’m in. See you at 5!’ ”