I remember at the end of March, hearing about how quickly the coronavirus (COVID-19) was spreading throughout Europe, especially in Italy- how a lockdown was the only way they could manage the dire circumstances their country was facing due to a late response to the infection rate of their citizens. At the time, it seemed unreal: a lockdown due to a virus, in this day and age?
When I got to work, the morning news spread that the lockdown was happening in Italy, I told my boss what I had read and his first question to me was, “Are you afraid?” Truthfully, I wasn’t- I’m not.
That same week, on a Friday, the first post at the top of my Facebook feed included a video taken by a Costco employee, her caption including the term “panic buying” (over toilet paper). Panic buying? You mean that scene in those apocalyptic movies when everyone rushes into the store to grab everything off the shelves in a frenzy? No way. I could not believe the way people were reacting out of fear that they would be locked in their homes, for what we thought (at the time) would only be a couple of weeks.
The following week after watching that video, reading news articles about stores running out of supplies, the number of active COVID-19 cases rapidly increasing throughout our province, our country, around the world: the weight of the reality that this was the new ‘normal’ finally set in. However, none of it felt as close as it should have, because it had not touched anyone I know, had not affected me personally or to a point that could shock me.
The first week into self-isolation (all non-essential workers to stay home or work from home, by law) was difficult. All I could see on my social feeds were people posting ‘challenges’ to their stories, tagging each other in DIY projects and food recipe posts, going through old photos, and a huge case of cabin fever developing. Then the aura shifted and new recurring themes kept popping up in my feed: bible quotes (usually about struggle and difficulty), sad songs (their lyrics quoted with the song playing in the background), family photos of brighter days tied to concerning captions.
As someone with many friends who struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues, I do not take such content lightly. Truthfully, I try to combat the darker posts with lighter ones, or at least try to share my understanding and empathy in any way that I can so that others do not feel alone.
One day, I was feeling a little down from all the negative news and the overall gravity of social media. I decided to share one of my personal prayers to my Instagram story, and the response I got from people who were feeling the same, or didn’t have the words but could relate was phenomenal. It drew a lot of my acquaintances closer, and brought out many heartfelt conversations, but above these: it exposed the true emotions one particular friend had bottled up and pushed aside out of fear for her family. So I asked her, “How are you doing these days?”
and she responded with, “…feeling really scared [and] worried. My fam’s super sick…[My brother’s] been puking since last night and I took him to the ER and they said he has the symptoms but didn’t give him the test, so we all have to be under isolation. My dad’s cough is so bad, so I’m monitoring him the most ‘cause he has a heart condition.”
Strangely enough, the first thing I thought was panic buying. I was so concerned her family would not be able to get the things they needed if they couldn’t leave the house. So I replied, “If you need any assistance or any supplies, please tell me. I would be more than happy to help you.” Although, the funny thing about offering help these days is: people won’t take it right away. Instead of accepting the helping hand, the usual response I have gotten from friends and family has been, “I don’t want you to go out of your way” or “That’s too much to ask.” Regardless, I kept telling her it is absolutely not a problem or it isn’t out of the way for me to be able to help until she finally caved and admitted to needing certain items to help look after her loved ones. Little did I know, that one interaction would lead to a weekly routine of supply runs and deliveries for over 10 individuals from my community.
Since making that first delivery, I have acquired information from family members and friends who either personally need or know others who need assistance with regular shopping for essential items such as groceries, hygiene products, cleaning supplies and medication.
I currently help out my grandmother and some of her neighbours and friends, as well as my auntie, uncle, and some of my own friends whose families have been struck by this virus. Every week I post on my Instagram story, making note of which towns or cities I will be in or around (within a 10-15km radius) and accept responses for 24 hours before planning my supply route. Once I receive messages saying someone needs help, I get them to email me their list of needs and their address, and based on where I need to deliver I begin mapping out which stores to visit.
Generally, I try to plan my trips to avoid wasting time in search of a second or third store. Our public shopping hours have been restricted to 8AM-8PM, but I still work a 9AM-5PM job from home, so I am usually in a hurry to get to the store.
As social distancing began about a month ago, I have to alot for extra time to line up outside stores, sanitize the carts or baskets I use, and the bags I carry the supplies in. Once inside the store, I grab everything as quick as I can and get out, then sanitize everything again. I think the greatest challenge of taking on so many families and doing the shopping on their behalf would be how much time I have to shop for so many people. The cart is usually filled beyond the brim and I end up carrying about 10-12 bags out the store on my own. So to work from 9-5, drive to (and line up at) the stores which close at 8, and shop for 2-3 families (plus myself sometimes) within 1-3 hours can be quite challenging.
Nonetheless, it’s manageable and nothing makes me happier than hearing how relieved people are when they receive the items they need. Most of the time, these families e-transfer me payments for their groceries (I tell them deliveries are on me), but for the ones who have lost work or cannot afford to pay, I tell them not to worry about it. I even started to take 50% of my income from my side-business (doing illustrations and portraits) to use towards providing supplies to those who cannot work or have lost their jobs during this time.
What’s been a huge motivational factor in reaching out to my community and trying to help out in any way that I can is this verse from the Bible: “Whenever you possibly can, do good to those who need it” (Proverbs 3:27 TEV). Even though it seems like we’re all in for a rough year, even
when it seems like so many parts of our daily life seem to be tearing at the seams, and all that we know is falling apart, I can’t help but think there are still ways we can make light of this darkness. While there are so many people afraid of what’s going on around the world, I can’t stop thinking about the people who live in countries with less resources, less access to basic needs, who don’t have the means to combat the common cold or feed themselves everyday. I never thought I took my old routine for granted, never thought I had no appreciation for the things I already have, but it took a virus, public panic, a quarantine, seeing everyone afraid to ask for help when they need it, to truly look at all the little things that make my life the privilege I now recognize it to be. So, I keep that in mind everyday, every time I set out to give back.
God blessed me with a life of comfort, stability, structure, accessibility: these are all things I have been accustomed to. Now, seeing how easily that can be taken away, I feel it is my duty to share what I have left of these things with others who do not have that comfort right now.
Thinking back to when my boss asked me at the beginning of all this, “Are you afraid?” The answer is, no. I’m not afraid. I know that may sound irrational to many people, but my faith is that God will not let harm come to me if I do what is good and what is right by myself, by Him and by other people. If I do happen to get sick? So be it. God will not give me more than I can handle. I fully believe my life is not my own, and that all I have right now is temporary and all comes from our creator, our Father. If He was so willing to give me the ability to work right now, to provide for myself, to grant me this blessing of health, then it’s with these gifts that I hope to also keep giving. God is the gift that keeps on giving, and I only hope to embody that in whichever ways I can- small or grand.
About the Writer:
Natalie Fitzpatrick is a young Graphic Designer and Illustrator, living in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. She loves to hike, runs on coffee, and has a passion for teaching youth about faith.