Even in times of fear and uncertainty, Americans are still connected by compassion and their core desire to do good.
People throughout the country have come up with creative ways to help those in need while practicing social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
Scrolling through her Facebook feed, Katie Quinn, a high school teacher living in Cinnaminson, New Jersey, realized many of her friends wanted to help — they just didn’t know how.
So she created the “Cinnaminson Helping Cinnaminson” Facebook group, connecting volunteers with those needing a helping hand. They coordinate grocery deliveries, prescription pick-ups and supply exchanges. This week, they’ve begun collecting baby formula for local mothers.
Quinn, 45, has rallied more than 90 volunteers who have helped 50 families and counting.
“The outpouring of support has been wild,” she tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story. “It’s a small town, so people look out for each other here … but it’s also good for us to help others and make people smile.”
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Gene Smirnov Monica Horner and Katie Quinn
Volunteers from Quinn’s group delivered groceries to Lauren Sahin, a 32-year-old mother with Type 1 Diabetes.
Sahin was anxious about heading to the store. Worried about contracting the virus with her 5-year-old daughter and grandmother at home, Sahin says the volunteers, neighbor Paul Conda and his wife Meme went the extra mile by going to multiple stores if one didn’t have an item she requested.
“Their help made a huge impact,” she adds. “I knew this was a great town when I moved here, but this exceeded my expectations.”
In New York City, college student Liam Elkind, 20, helped start a free delivery service for seniors and others who need help. Invisible Hands began with a Facebook inquiry from his friend, 25-year-old Simone Pelicano, about how to help elderly and ill New Yorkers amid the outbreak.
Jessie Wardarski/AP Liam Elkind
Elkind, whose dad is a doctor in New York, said the group was inspired by all the healthcare workers caring for the infected.
“They’re risking life and limb to be able to do some good in the world and help out those most in need,” he tells PEOPLE. “So I think there was a real need for other people to step up and do good in the world.”
Both leaders of the Cinnaminson volunteer group and Invisible Hands emphasize that they’ve taken extra precautions to curb the spread of coronavirus, including checking that volunteers are well, asking volunteers to wear gloves and sanitize deliveries and keeping at least 6 feet apart from recipients.
As of Thursday, Invisible Hands has 7,900 young volunteers who have run more than 500 deliveries of essential goods and medicines to at-risk demographics from New York City to Jersey City, New Jersey, Elkind tells PEOPLE.
They’ve also raised more than $30,000 in donations to help those who have lost their jobs and need groceries or medicine. Someone can submit a request on their website and then either call ahead to the store to put in an order or have a volunteer shop for them.
Carol Sterling, 83, found Elkind through her synagogue. Soon after reaching out, the college student showed up at her door with a bag full of lettuce, carrots and oranges.
Jessie Wardarski/AP Liam Elkind and Carol Sterling
“What they are doing is sending a message of kindness, of caring,” Sterling tells PEOPLE. “I have to feel that good will come out of this crisis.”
Adds Invisible Hands volunteer Healy Chait, 25: “I’m so excited that we’ve been able to help so many people, and I keep telling everyone, ‘It feels a lot better than laying around the house and watching Netflix.'”
When the quarantine started, the Chamber of Commerce in Gallatin, Tennessee created a Pandemic Pals program to assist vulnerable, older residents. They match able volunteers with an elderly pal to deliver supplies and check in on them.
Tabithia Graves, 34, was paired with Judith Sands, 71, who lives alone and does not have access to transportation.
“The elderly feel very shut in, very isolated,” Graves tells PEOPLE. “She can’t get out and do anything for herself anymore, and I think that’s a fear as we all get older. They need kind faces and spirits on the phone to keep them upbeat about the situation.”
Graves recently helped Sands set up her iPad so she could have entertainment and keep up with the news. She spoke with Sands through her screen door and sanitized the device. When she finished, Graves noticed Sands’ neighbor was crying.
“She’s been so sweet to me, I feel so thankful,” Sands says. “It’s a miracle from God.”
“If I’m able to do something for someone that’s not able to do it,” says Graves, “that’s what is going to keep the world going round.”
• With additional reporting by DIANE HERBST and JULIETTE VARA.
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