If it’s Wednesday, then it must be time to set aside the politics for just a few moments and focus on some good people, yes? Well, it just happens that I’ve found a couple …
Michelle Brenner went to work at her job in a men’s clothing store in Gig Harbour, Washington, one day in March, only to be told that the store would be closing indefinitely, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Michelle went home and fixed herself a pan of lasagna … comfort food, y’know.
The next day, she knew she couldn’t just sit home and do nothing to help people, so she volunteered to go grocery shopping for some friends and neighbors. When she noticed that several had included frozen lasagna on their lists, she was horrified! FROZEN Lasagna??? Surely not! Now, Michelle is of Italian descent, and has long used the recipe her grandmother handed down for several of her dishes, including lasagna. So, she had a thought.
She posted on Facebook to her friends and neighbors that she would be happy to make them fresh, homemade lasagna at no cost … all they had to do was ask. When Michelle received her $1,200 stimulus check, she spent it on ingredients. A retired neighbor and unemployed friend were the first to take her up on the generous offer. Before long, many strangers who’d heard about her kindness started stopping by. Three months have passed now, and Michelle is still assembling the layers of love—8 hours a day, seven days a week.She has made over 1,200 pans of lasagna—no questions asked—for anybody who wants one. She even began dropping them off for essential workers at the local police and fire departments, the hospital, and even the prison.
“The world as we know it is falling apart, but my two little hands are capable of making a difference. I can’t change the world, but I can make lasagna.”
Word spread, and strangers began stepping up to support the unique philanthropy. The Gig Harbor Sportsman’s Club offered the use of their huge clubhouse kitchen. Said the club’s president, Le Rodenberg …
“We saw what a great thing she was doing, and we have this nice commercial kitchen that wasn’t being used because of COVID. I can tell you that she takes extra care with every one of those lasagnas.”
And, as word spread even more, people started donating.
“When word got out on social media, people from all over the world started donating to my cause.”
Thus far, she has received more than $22,000 in donations … enough to keep her making lasagna for a long time! It’s a little thing, sure, but sometimes it’s the little things that can bring a smile to a person’s face.
Now I’m hungry!
Pandemic of Love
Fort Lauderdale, Florida resident and teacher Shelly Tygielski saw people all around her losing their jobs in mid-March, and she worried about them … not only about their finances, but also their health. She wanted to do something and sensed an opportunity.
“I wanted to turn from this environment of fear to an opportunity for us to create connection, community and strengthen the bonds of love between us.”
It all started out very simply, when Shelly posted a video on her Instagram on March 14. She announced a new program aimed at connecting those with a need due to loss of income with those who are in a position of privilege and able to be of service. When she went to bed that night, she wasn’t sure how much good her efforts would do. By morning, she had received 400 requests for assistance and 500 offers of help.
“I really just thought this would be a community thing for the South Florida community, for the people who come to our meditation group on Sundays, and that’s it—and that would’ve been enough.”
Her posts and links were then shared by celebrities like Debra Messing, Chelsea Handler and Kristin Bell, and the hashtag #PandemicofLove helped spread the word. Tygielski started receiving thousands of forms from people across the country, and there was an outpouring of volunteers who wanted to help build the organization.
“Within the first 24 hours I received an email offering to start a Pandemic of Love community for San Francisco, and within two to three days I got messages to create communities in Portugal and Barcelona. And now I get at least 20 emails a day from folks who want to create micro-communities from all over the world. We start by going close and then go further out to find the help. It is about matching the need and filling the need, and the more communities we have the more of these connections we can make.”
One example …
Suzi Israel in Asheville, North Carolina, filled out a form to get help for her adult son Jacob. He lives in Los Angeles and needed to move temporarily because of Covid-19 cases in his building.
“My son, when he found out I did this, he was very skeptical of people and untrusting. So I told my son to have some faith, and within a day or so he was connected with a donor who gave him some financial support.”
Her son saw further proof of goodwill when his mom started volunteering with Pandemic of Love and helped create the volunteer team for the Asheville community.
People in all corners of the world, inspired by Shelly’s compassion, soon set up similar online exchanges in their own communities under her Love Pandemic banner. In addition to the many groups that sprang up around the U.S., people have been using the Pandemic of Love website to offer assistance in 16 countries so far, including Mexico, Iceland, Chile, and Australia.
Shelly says that the majority of people seeking help want to stock up on food and supplies for the children, and that the average request is about $150. But while the coronavirus pandemic has created a large and visible need, Shelly hopes that the Pandemic of Love project will continue to grow even after the days of coronavirus are over.
Reflecting on what the project has meant to her, Shelly said …
“On a personal level, it shows me that a person can make a difference when you aggregate this act of kindness. You know viruses can be scary things, but the word ‘viral’ does not have to be negative. A lot of positive things can go viral like hope and faith and love. And love can be the cure.”
What started out as a small, local effort has, as of June 4th, raised more than $13 million and has connected 132,000 people with the help they need. It warms the heart to know how many people are out there who want to help those in need.