Rising to the Challenge

Communities band together to aid, inspire during pandemic

The unknown and unfamiliar can strike resonant notes of fear and panic that expose some of the worst of human character.

In the days and weeks immediately following COVID-19 being declared a pandemic, our new reality brought with it elevated levels of shared anxiety and unsettled disquiet that manifested itself in everything from panic buying to an uptick in racist and xenophobic aggressions against people of Asian descent.

Although the poor reactions of the few could be disheartening, those tinny responses were swallowed up and drowned out by chorus after chorus of symphonic examples showcasing the best of the human condition.

In times of crisis, heroes don’t step aside; they step up.

While many were still reeling with health, employment and financial fallout from COVID-19, the stories of basic decency and the championing of the greater good emerged. The Greater Lansing region has not been a stranger to acts both large and small of kindness and caring in the face of calamity. The local undertakings have been as inspirational as they are myriad and storied. However, the gracious altruism and the outpouring of connectiveness serve to reflect and remind of the best in us all.

 

Helping Those in Health Care

The health care community found itself as the face of the pandemic as hospitals and emergency rooms quickly filled with patients suffering from the deadly novel coronavirus. As beds filled with patients needing constant care, medical professionals already under immense stress were dealt with another blow: precious medical supplies were dwindling. As a counterbalance, the Sparrow Foundation set up a Challenge Response Fund where community members donate supplies. Within a five-day period, the foundation collected more than 110,000 items — from masks and gowns to gloves and hand sanitizer.

“This is uncharted territory, and we don’t know how long the pandemic will go on,” said John Foren, spokesperson for Sparrow Health System. “As a result, we’re being very creative about finding resources from our many partners.”

Foren noted that Sparrow staff was holding up well under trying circumstances, but counseling services were made available to those who needed it. As for the response from the public, Foren said the community has always been in Sparrow’s corner.

“We’re not surprised at the response from the community because they have always stepped up to support Sparrow and the health care needs of mid-Michigan,” he said.

 

Supplying the Need and Necessities

One of the more unique contributions to aid the health care field came from Mason Trailer Rentals.

Owner Sam Chrome put out a call on Facebook offering the use of campers for health care workers who felt the need to shelter away from their families to avoid exposing them to the virus.

“The response has been overwhelming from people in all fields,” he said. “We have received messages from individuals that I have never met. I honestly didn’t know the extent of the fear and stress that health care workers carry on a daily basis. I wish we had more campers to help more people.”

Chrome downplayed the gesture, even as his own livelihood was suffering.

“Our business is stagnant, and the cancellations come in on a daily basis,” he said. “Due to the nature of the situation, we plan to refund all deposits. Typically, our deposits are nonrefundable; however, we didn’t feel it would be the right way to conduct business.”

Setting aside personal financial concerns for something larger was instinctive to many business owners, including as Melissa Rabideau, founder and owner of tinkrLAB in Okemos. Using a partnership with East Lansing Public Schools, Rabideau helped create a GoFundMe page to pay for the creation of medical masks using 3D printing technology. Roughly 200 printers across the state each churned out two to three masks per day.

“It was a project that I thought we could push while my business is shut down,” she said. “I had an option to curl up and worry about what is going to happen to us over the next few months and if we are going to survive, or I can get the focus off myself and see what solutions I can provide. The response we have gotten shows me that I made the right choice.”

 

Getting Students Back in the Saddle

Donations also helped another group that were adversely impacted by the stay-at-home order. With schools closed, students who rely on the educational system for nutritional needs were going without.

Saddleback BBQ began collecting donations to provide students with free meals, even challenging fans at both the Lansing and Okemos locations to best one another in the number of meals served.

“We began to worry about all the children that rely on the school for their food,” said Travis Stoliker, who owns Saddleback with Matt Gillett. “We wanted to do something to help, so we decided that we would allow our customers to purchase a kids’ meal for $5 and we would donate the meal to a child in need. … It was really rewarding to serve more than 400 kids in need in the Greater Lansing area.”

Even as the razor-thin profit margins of restaurants took a huge hit with the closing of seated service, Stoliker said showing care and compassion for the needs of others comes with being a part of a larger community.

“We are all in this together. We have an incredibly strong customer base that is very supportive,” he said. “This community means a lot to us. We wanted to do what we could to give back.”

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