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  • Jordan Godfrey

Lending a Helping Hand in the Time of COVID

By Jordan Godfrey

The COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 quite a year. For me, I had always imagined 2020 as a year of prom, senior ditch days, and high school graduation. I never pictured my fall semester of 2019 being my last normal semester of high school. The global pandemic has wreaked havoc on every aspect of everyone’s lives, and it has been a challenging experience for us all. However, sometimes a horrible event can push a rural community like mine to rally together (from a distance) and lend a hand of true generosity and altruism.

On the news, we have all seen instances of people coming together to help others through this trying time. However, working with those who are so determined to help their communities puts life into perspective. Soon after my school system decided to close its physical doors for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester, parents and students quickly voiced their concerns on various topics. The most prominent being: how were children going to continue to learn? This question was difficult to answer because many families do not have easy WiFi access or even technology like computers in my Tennessee community. Many teachers spent hours printing paper versions of all future assignments and sent home computers and tablets for students with Wifi to combat this issue. Another more complicated question was: how are some students going to get food? In an area where many families live at or below the poverty line, getting three meals a day at home is not an option. While some students may take for granted the school breakfasts and lunches, others rely on these meals to not feel hungry and to be able to focus on their studies. Many of the schools in my area attempted to combat these questions and others. Still, the teachers and staff at my old elementary school showed true ingenuity and compassion that brought the community together. They made the pandemic a little less scary for the children who attend that school.

Getting food to all the children and their families in the elementary school zone may seem simple at first. Just have parents come and pick up food from the school, many community members suggested. While the teachers did spend many weeks sitting outside of the school and operating their version of a drive-thru with meals for families, not all families could get their food that way. Many parents worked and could not get to the school to pick up the food. Other families had limited means of transportation and could not make it to the school because of that. Thus, the question became how to get food to these students in need. My old elementary school came up with an answer that would take community support, lots of labor, and time to undertake. This solution was to get food onto school buses and have teachers volunteer their time to take the food from house to house on designated bus routes. Keep in mind that the houses are separated by miles and miles of winding country roads that can take hours to traverse. Not to mention, getting enough food to fill these buses was no easy task, either. In this moment of need, the community rallied around my school’s idea of delivering food. Local restaurants that were hurting because of the pandemic themselves volunteered to cook and package the meals for the students. Teachers from every grade volunteered to ride the buses for hours at a time to deliver, and bus drivers willingly took to the roads to get the food where it needed to go. Since my mom is a teacher, she volunteered both of us to help deliver food, so I was lucky enough to see how much of a positive impact bringing food to these families could get.

I remember arriving at the loading zone for the food in front of a community church and seeing rows of buses being filled with the packaged food. Teachers were everywhere, getting on and off buses. When I first got on our designated bus, I was still a little skeptical of how much of an impact we were making. Yes, everyone needs food, but I did not see how just food could lighten these young students’ spirits in the time of a pandemic. However, at our first house, I saw how wrong I was to doubt the importance of what my fellow community members were doing. When we pulled up in front of the house, I got off with some other teachers carrying stacks of to-go containers. These containers had everything from hamburgers to hotdogs to bbq pork and vegetables. We did not even make it to the door before a flurry of children came running at us. They grabbed the food, but they were also in awe that their teachers had come to their houses. I saw a child-like wonder in their eyes and in their smiles that seemed to go from ear to ear. I never understood until that point how the isolation and uncertainty of the pandemic had truly affected us all. These children had not seen their friends or teachers in weeks. Just seeing teachers pull up in front of their houses with food seemed to lift their, and their families’, spirits. Although each trip’s main goal was to deliver food, I now understand that another, just as important, goal was to remind these families that they were not alone. I think that reminder exemplifies the sense of community that can be seen in more rural schools. Even though the pandemic was forcing people apart, it could also bring people back together in new and creative ways.

Of course, families needed more than just food during this time. They needed school supplies for their children and cleaning supplies for their homes. Unfortunately, with the financial hardship that comes with a pandemic affecting almost every kind of job, many could not afford these supplies. Once again, my old school stepped forward in the community’s time of need. I remember going to the school with my mom one day, raiding her classroom for every spare box of crayons, pack of markers, scissors, paper, and glue we could find. We also took all the Clorox wipes, paper towels, and bottles of hand sanitizer that she had accumulated over the years and threw them all into large boxes. In every classroom of the school, other teachers were mirroring our actions. We all met at the front of the school laden with supplies of every kind. Then, we gave it all away. From both their own pockets and school funds, teachers had bought all of these supplies for their classrooms, yet now they were giving it all away without a second thought. Families flocked to pick up these much-needed supplies from the school, and their gratitude to the teachers was palpable. All the teachers I spoke to that day did not regret giving away so much of their supplies. On the contrary, seeing the barrenness of the classrooms seemed to give me, and many others, a feeling of satisfaction that the school had come to the aid of the community’s needs.

No one foresaw the far-reaching effects COVID would have on every community in the world. I know I never expected to witness my hometown being wracked by the consequences of COVID. Many people lost their jobs, and some even lost friends and family. However, in all of this destruction and isolation, my school system rallied together and maintained a sense of community. Before the pandemic, I have never seen such raw and beautiful acts of altruism and kindness. Now, I know that those actions will be needed in the years to come as both our country and the world come to terms with the far-reaching effects of COVID and the systemic inequalities it exacerbated.


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