There may be shortages of hand sanitizer, toilet paper and COVID-19 test kits (depending on who is talking), but one pandemic survival tool apCOVID-19 pandemic prompts Berkeley neighbours to help one another appears to be getting more abundant every day: the kindness of strangers.
Over the past few days, social media, faith-based outreach and even café conversations are bursting with people offering to help those affected by the new coronavirus.
In Berkeley and across the Bay Area, the number of residents posting on Nextdoor, Facebook, Twitter and other forums offering to assist people affected by the pandemic jumps every day.
This river of helpfulness comes at a pivotal time as Gov. Gavin Newsom announced new state guidelines (not mandates) on Sunday afternoon calling on people age 65 and over and those with chronic illness to isolate at home. He also called for bars, clubs, wineries and breweries to close, and restaurants to cut the number of customers they serve by half to increase social distancing; and took steps to house homeless people in hotels, motels and RVs.
The new wave of grassroots volunteer troops includes solo helpers as well as organizations and groups.
Erica Etelson, a writer who lives in central Berkeley, set up an online spreadsheet a few days ago to match volunteers with needs.
“I was consuming way too much news about coronavirus… Thinking about who is going to be impacted the most in our community,” Etelson said. “I and a lot of people I know are youngish and healthy and can be going to stores. There are many of us who can do the simple favour of getting groceries or medicines for neighbours that can’t go to stores.”
Etelson, who calls the effort The Berkeley Mutual Aid Network, posted the spreadsheet online in a few places. As of Sunday, 105 volunteers had signed up offering their help.
Response from those with needs is slower, she said. “We haven’t had many people asking for help, and I think that’s going to be the bigger challenge.”
But, as of Sunday, six people had posted in the “people in need” column. Their needs: shopping for groceries and cleaning supplies; an appeal for alcohol wipes. “I’m not sick, but the stores are out,” someone wrote.
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Roz Aronson, 85, is one of those signing up for the new mutual aid service. She’s trying to stay home and avoid others right now, partly because of her age, but also because she has been fighting a cold for weeks. Aronson, who lives in North Berkeley, has family in the area who help her, but just in case they aren’t available she now has a place to turn.
“I thought it was really wonderful that people were offering help,” Aronson said. “It warmed my heart.”
Nancy, who preferred sharing only her first name, also signed up. She, too, is sick, weak and congested. She’s 72 years old and lives alone in South Berkeley. Most of her friends are older and she won’t ask them to help because she doesn’t want to expose them to her germs, Nancy said. In a short time, she’ll need help getting groceries, she said.
“It’s so reassuring to know there are people out there who care and are willing to help you,” Nancy said, her voice cracking as she held back tears. “I will definitely use it. What else can I do? It’s nice. It’s so nice. ”