I want to talk about the helpers.

I want to talk about the power of community and how even though a vaccine has yet to save us from a continuous increase in COVID-19 cases, what will and has saved us are people.

Everyday people have been doing incredible things in the face of a darkness called
uncertainty. We are all afraid. There is a collective fear across the globe that speaks to the very nature of our existence as humans. We isolate to not only help each other but to save ourselves from something we cannot control. This lack of control speaks to a fundamental space inside of us that yearns for understanding, predictability, connection, life.

But there are those who, in the face of such change, continue to step out into discomfort. These individuals continue to bring light, love and humanity into spaces we’ve closed ourselves off from.

My mother, Diane, for example. My mom, at age 60, is a cashier at a large grocery store in Newark, Delaware. When asked why she continues to go to work every day, she said, “There are people out there that do not have a job and are really struggling, so I weigh it out by thinking I’m blessed to have a job and just hope for the best and that I’m healthy and try to stay healthy while also still having an income.”

My mom had to advocate for the ability to wear a mask during her shift. After much
persuading, she was given approval, not only for herself but also for her coworkers.
Since then, her store has offered plastic face shields for employees and PIN pads with plastic coverings to decrease the spread of germs. Each day, she has to reinforce the 6-foot rule for people eager to check out.

“Sometimes I feel like a police officer. I have to constantly tell people to back up, keep the 6-foot distance, stand back — but people aren’t listening.”

Each day, my mom puts herself at risk, for the sake of others.

Janice (Courtesy photo)
Janice. (Courtesy photo)

My friend Janice works for a Pittsburgh homeless street outreach program that takes medicine to the streets to help serve some of the city’s most vulnerable. Each day, Janice drives into the city to continue her work as a nurse beneath the bridges. Here, Janice is among those most threatened by COVID-19. “Somebody has to do it,” Janice said. “I’m cautious but not fearful. Fear causes you to lose hope, and I believe we can overcome this as a community.”

Janice puts herself at risk each day to show love and humanity to those who cannot isolate, to those who do not have access to health care and to those who eventually may be the most impacted by the virus. “I’ve found my purpose in taking care of those who need it the most right now and have faith in God’s will for my future,” she said.

My friend Marlana works in South Carolina for a food delivery company that shops for groceries and delivers them to customers at home. Over time, Marlana began to see her work not just as a way to make money but as a way to build relationships with the customers she was serving.

Marlana (Courtesy photo)
Marlana. (Courtesy photo)

Marlana recalls Ms. Sylvia, a 73-year-old woman, crying as her groceries were delivered to the end of her driveway as she stood at the entrance of her garage. Ms. Sylvia had been quarantined with her husband for two weeks. From a distance, she began to cry, sad about missing the birth of her great-grandchild. When asked why she continues to work, Marlana said: “Right now, as a single mother, I have to provide for my three children, but my work is also giving me much more than a paycheck. It’s giving me the opportunity to run my fingers through the fabric of a community and become interwoven in the relationships that are
growing here.”

And there are so many more of these unsung heroes throughout our communities.
There are doctors and nurses working around the clock to tend to those hardest hits by the virus. Each day, they confront uncertainty and risk in ways that speak to such beauty and strength of the human heart. Even as medical supplies and equipment dwindle under the weight of increasing demand, these individuals continue to show up, engage, reach out and provide care for the sick, at the risk of their own health and safety. It is they, along with so many others, who can be looked to as symbols of hope and strength in these devastating times.

These are the moments where we see, experience and hold dearly to the strength of
community. These are the moments where we allow this pause in life to remind us of what we’ve been given and to recognize all those around us who continue to inspire and protect. Although a vaccine may not be able to save us right now, our communities, filled with those like Diane, Janice and Marlana, are saving us.

Leah Marmo (Rainey) (Courtesy photo)
Leah Marmo (Rainey) (Courtesy photo)

Leah Marmo (Rainey) is a regional program manager at Self-Determination Housing of Pennsylvania, a statewide nonprofit committed to increasing affordable and accessible housing options for individuals with disabilities across the Commonwealth. Visit SDHP’s website at sdhp.org to learn how it can help your organization build capacity to better serve individuals in need of housing. She can be reached at Lmarmo@sdhp.org.

PublicSource has a special page dedicated to our reporting on COVID-19 for the Pittsburgh region. See it here and sign up for our newsletter to stay informed. We hope you are following the news and, if your situation allows, social distancing guidelines. Have a tip or an idea? Please email mila@publicsource.org.

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