SOUTH KINGSTOWN – When community spread of COVID-19 began to present itself, South Kingstown residents quickly jumped into action to provide much-needed mutual aid support.
In less than two weeks, a network of volunteers have come together to provide $6,035 in short-term cash assistance and have distributed $1,400 in grocery cards. Community members have made shopping trips for those who are at high risk, participated in food drives, delivered cleaning supplies and provided essential transportation.
These efforts have largely come together thanks to the work of several local community members. Sarah Markey, Maggie Kain and Tarra Apperson of The Collective in Peace Dale, Narragansett Town Councilman Jesse Pugh and the Rev. DL Helfer of Unitarian Universalist Congregation of South County have all been helping to lead the charge.
“We’re trying to help anyone we can keep their head above water,” Markey said.
The community-based initiative, accessible through Facebook, invites those in need to fill out a “super simple Google forum” to be connected with services or, sometimes, even a stranger, willing to help out any way they can, according to Helfer.
“It’s just a way of trying to amplify local resources,” they said.
Those who’ve filled out the form aren’t just asking for food and deliveries, or transportation for essential travel, but assistance paying their rents and mortgages. Many Rhode Islanders, especially those who work in the food industry, have been laid off or have lost their jobs.
Although Gov. Raimondo has halted all eviction adjudication, for those who’ve been laid off or lost their job, Markey said the goal is to help make sure these individuals and their families are not “evicted or foreclosed upon once life goes back to normal.”
South Kingstown community member Jess Rose was quick to volunteer in any way she could, and has been donating her time and efforts since the online forum went live. Rose has helped to drop off groceries to neighbors in need and provide necessary transportation to those who normally rely on public transit.
“A lot of the needs we’re finding are coming from lower income households,” Rose said. “And I’ve been there, I know what that’s like. A few of the people I’ve helped actually live in the low income complex where I lived when my kids were little.”
She stressed the importance of everyone helping each other out during this time of hardship, and taking care of our neighbors the best we can – even if it’s just a lift to the grocery store.
For those who are in need during this “unprecedented public health crisis,” she hopes people won’t feel afraid or ashamed of asking for it.
“I think it’s really hard for people to ask for help, and I would say, right now, ‘don’t be afraid,’” Rose said. “Don’t be afraid to ask your neighbors, don’t be afraid to ask your friends and definitely don’t be afraid to go to your town Facebook page.”
For those who’ve received help, Markey said individuals have been incredibly gracious and blown away by the willingness of their neighbors to step up and provide assistance. There’s no space, she said, for people to feel ashamed about receiving a helping hand in times like these.
There’s a lot of help out there, she said, and many local organizations are looking to help in any way they can. One way Rose and others have helped to give back to the community is through collecting donations for Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale.
Those running supplies pick up cereal, cans of soup and other much needed supplies from on porches and doorsteps. The "runners" maintain a 6-foot distance to ensure they have no person-to-person contact, and take Lysol wipes to everything possible.
Precautions have been taken not only to keep people home, but to keep them safe, Markey said.
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of South County also quickly stepped up to help provide meals for those in need, according to Helfer. When the decision was made to no longer hold services a few weeks ago, members of the congregation wanted to give back. The decision to work together with Markey and other organizers followed suit, they said.
While the forum supplies space for community members to share their needs, “there’s also a place on that form to list what you can offer, whether it be monetary, goods or a service,” Rose said.
“This is one of those times that people just need to help each other,” said Laura Meyerson – one of the many community members who have provided assistance.
The University of Rhode Island professor has been able to work from home and continue teaching her students online, but she realized that many other residents haven’t been afforded the same opportunity.
“I’m lucky,” Meyerson said. “I have a job and I’m still receiving a salary, but I know that there are a lot of people who haven’t. They’ve lost their jobs and they don’t have any money coming in. More than ever, people need help.”
Meyerson has been able to donate funds where she can. She’s walked the neighborhood delivering notes and offering assistance to the elderly and high-risk individuals, she’s given puzzles, given books and other learning materials to families trying to homeschool, now that her own children have long outgrown them.
For those who wish to help out but do not use Facebook, please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org.