Acts of kindness
The worst of times has brought out the best in many local residents
Town of Kensington Mayor Tracey Furman got a text from a neighbor that Harley Higgins, who’s lived in Kensington since 1968, had his 98th birthday coming up. Furman hatched a plan to surprise him and got Higgins’ daughter on board. A note went out on the neighborhood listserv asking others to meet outside Higgins’ house at 5 p.m. on March 18 to sing “Happy Birthday.” Says Higgins, “The lady that takes care of me took me outside to get some fresh air, she said, but what she was doing was taking me out to where the group had congregated. It was a surprise party.” About 25 neighbors, spaced at a distance from each other, sang to the retired U.S. Navy commander as he was in his driveway. One neighbor brought him a chocolate milkshake from Five Guys. “I have good neighbors who watch out for me and help me out a lot,” Higgins says. The only thing he can think of that compares to the special birthday wishes? “When I met President Eisenhower,” he says.
“A lady walked 2 miles to our restaurant to pick up a steak and a burger. She did have Uber Eats. When we told her to order from Uber Eats so she didn’t have to walk 2 miles, she told me she couldn’t leave a tip on Uber Eats to the restaurant, [and] left [us] a 100% tip. Gave us chills from her response.” —Macon Bistro & Larder, Northwest D.C.
Andy Harney is the village manager for Section 3, a small slice of Chevy Chase nestled between Connecticut Avenue and Brookville Road. The neighborhood of close to 800 people has many seniors—some couples, others living alone. Harney, a recent widow herself, quickly realized the hardships posed by the coronavirus and asked for volunteers to aid the elderly. “Within six hours I had 60 people volunteering, and more after that,” she says. “It’s really impressive how many people wanted to do something.”
She created a system of “isolation buddies,” pairing older shut-ins with younger folks who could then do small tasks such as buying groceries or filling prescriptions. But she soon encountered a problem. Many seniors were reluctant to accept help if it looked and felt like charity. “People don’t want to take a handout if they don’t need it,” Harney says.
So she set down some rules: When volunteers went shopping, they’d put an itemized receipt in the grocery bag they left at their buddy’s front door. The senior could then return the bag to their shopper with a check inside, or mail it to them. The volunteers get as much out of the system as the people they serve. “People feel helpless in the face of this,” Harney says, “so they want some way to be able to control their situation or contribute or feel useful in the face of the unknown.”