7 heartwarming things that happened in an otherwise terrible 2020

Dylan Stableford
·Senior Writer
·7 min read

By almost any measure, 2020 was a terrible year in the United States, and for much of the rest of the world as well. Record-setting hurricanes and wildfires; police killings and racial unrest; a historic impeachment trial and a divisive presidential election — all overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 338,000 Americans and continues to rage. But amid the darkness there were actual glimmers of hope.

Medical workers hug outside NYU Langone Health hospital as people applaud to show their gratitude for them during the coronavirus pandemic, May 7, 2020. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)
Medical workers hug outside NYU Langone Health hospital in New York City on May 7 as people applaud to show their gratitude. (Noam Galai/Getty Images)

Frontline medical workers were celebrated as heroes every night for months

Doctors and nurses spent countless hours risking their lives — and the lives of their friends and families — to treat critically ill coronavirus patients. And in a movement that began in Wuhan, China, and spread quickly to New York, people paid tribute from their apartment windows, balconies and rooftops, cheering, singing and banging on pots and pans every night at 7 — the time when many hospitals typically change shifts.

The nightly ritual was seen in cities around the world, with the touching displays of solidarity captured on social media with the hashtag #ClapBecauseWeCare.

Everyday Americans stepped up to provide critical supplies …

With hospitals suddenly overwhelmed and facing shortages of personal protective equipment and other crucial supplies, clothing manufacturers large and small got to work to fill the void.

One small outfit grew out of New York City’s fashion industry in March, when three furloughed designers at Oscar de la Renta launched Garment District for Gowns to produce gowns for medical workers in underserved hospitals, community health centers, nursing homes and schools. Buoyed by a grant from the state of New York and a GoFundMe campaign, it has managed to deliver more than 300,000 FDA-compliant and reusable gowns to over 45 hospitals and health care facilities since the height of the pandemic.

“There’s a really huge movement and a real great human spirit that’s going on right now,” Alexandra Baylis, one of the project’s co-founders, said in April. “That however dark the time might seem, however overwhelming it is, there are people coming together, working hard, networking and seeing what they can do to contribute.”

A person applauds from their window to show their gratitude to medical staff and essential workers working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic in New York City, May 18, 2020. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)
A person bangs a lid in New York City on May 18 to show gratitude to medical staff and other essential workers. (Noam Galai/Getty Images)

… and food

The coronavirus took a devastating toll on American life, triggering a recession that has led to food shortages in cities around the country. And everyday Americans again stepped in to help.

In March, Larry Galper, a New Orleans pizza chef who lost his job when the restaurant he worked for was forced to close, on a whim began making and delivering free pizzas to essential workers and others in need.

“I thought, I’m going to wake up, make as many pizzas as I can and go deliver them to as many deserving people as I can,” Galper said. “People who think no one’s thinking about them.”

Galper’s NOLA Love Pizza quickly took off, delivering thousands of pizzas with the help of Louisiana food distributors and postal workers.

“This has been the experience of my life,” he said. “This truly has given me the most purpose I’ve ever felt. Unfortunately, it was spawned by a worldwide pandemic. But there are silver linings everywhere.”

Voters wait in a long line to cast their ballots at Church of the Servant in Oklahoma City, Nov. 3, 2020. (Nick Oxford/Reuters)
Voters wait to cast their ballots at Church of the Servant in Oklahoma City on Election Day, Nov. 3. (Nick Oxford/Reuters)

A record 158 million people voted

Lost in the bitterness left by a divisive presidential race (and President Trump’s refusal to concede defeat) was the fact that a record 158 million ballots were cast in the election — an increase of more than 20 million from the turnout in 2016. And it took place amid an ongoing pandemic that forced tens of millions to vote by mail.

President-elect Joe Biden received 81 million votes, shattering the previous record of 69.5 million received by Barack Obama in 2008. Trump received 74 million, more than any other candidate except Biden.

According to the U.S. Elections Project, the turnout rate was estimated to be about 66 percent of eligible voters, the highest since 1900.

If you believe in democracy, that’s something to celebrate.

Naomi Osaka walks on court wearing a mask with the name of George Floyd on it before her quarterfinal match at the U.S. Open on Sept. 8, 2020. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images )
Naomi Osaka walks onto the court wearing a mask with George Floyd's name on it before her quarterfinal match at the U.S. Open on Sept. 8. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images )

An unassuming tennis star found her voice

The killing of unarmed Black Americans by police, including Breonna Taylor in March and George Floyd in May, sparked global protests over racial injustice and police brutality.

And the sports world, already reeling from COVID-related cancellations, was among the first to join in the Black Lives Matter movement. NBA superstar LeBron James was among the most vocal, using his social media platforms to draw attention to the protests that followed Floyd’s death. Athletes across the globe followed. (Their activism angered critics who do not like social causes mixed with sports.)

But perhaps the most poignant and simple tribute came from tennis star Naomi Osaka, who walked onto the court for each of her seven matches at the U.S. Open wearing a mask emblazoned with the name of a Black American (Floyd, Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile and Tamir Rice) killed by police or by racist assailants.

In a post-match interview after winning the tournament, Osaka was asked what message she was trying to send with the masks.

“What’s the message you got, was more the question,” she replied. “I feel like the point is to make people start talking.”

Mase, an adopted pit bull, plays in the grass in Escondido, Calif., April 21, 2020. (Photo by Ariana Drehsler/AFP via Getty Images)
Mase, an adopted pit bull, plays in Escondido, Calif., in April. (Ariana Drehsler/AFP via Getty Images)

People forced to stay home adopted pets in record numbers

As millions of Americans were forced to stay or work from home due to restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus, many decided it was time to adopt a fur-covered friend, or more than one.

In April, animal shelters around the country reported skyrocketing numbers of adoptions. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it began seeing a spike in adoptions during the second half of March, after stay-at-home orders were issued by the Trump administration. The adoption rate jumped by nearly 30 percent that month.

“We’ve seen an incredibly compassionate response from people willing to open their homes to foster and adopt vulnerable shelter animals during this period of uncertainty and applaud them for stepping up so heroically for animals in need,” ASPCA president and CEO Matt Bershadker told Time magazine. “This unprecedented compassionate response from communities across the country to support their local shelters reflects widespread appreciation of the invaluable role pets play in our lives.”

An announcement is seen at Smithsonian's National Zoo following the birth of the zoo's first giant panda cub in five years, Aug. 22, 2020. (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/Washington Post via Getty Images)
An announcement at the National Zoo on Aug. 22, following the birth of its first giant panda cub in five years. (Evelyn Hockstein/Washington Post via Getty Images)

A giant panda cub was born

A global pandemic and social unrest couldn’t totally overshadow other heartwarming animal stories, like the birth of a panda cub at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. In August, Mei Xiang, a 22-year-old giant panda, gave birth to a cub, to the joy of panda lovers around the world, who were able to see the birth on the zoo’s Panda Cam. She was the oldest giant panda to successfully give birth in the United States.

“Giant pandas are an international symbol of endangered wildlife and hope, and with the birth of this precious cub we are thrilled to offer the world a much-needed moment of pure joy,” the National Zoo said in a statement.

“We need this! We totally need this joy,” added National Zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson. “We are all in desperate need of these feel-goods.”

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