On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” — Fred Rogers
These are frightening times we’re living in. So, as Mr. Rogers would advise, we’re devoting this hour to finding the helpers. They are people who — even in the midst of a global pandemic — work to ease the burden of others. Some, like Chef José Andrés cook, package and deliver meals to communities in need. Others are checking in on vulnerable neighbors to ensure their physical and emotional health. Some are medical students providing childcare for hospital staff, or crafters sewing masks for first responders.
Helpers are everywhere. Look for them. And, if it’s safe, be one.
Produced by Julie Depenbrock
- José Andrés Chef; Owner, Think Food Group (Jaleo, Oyamel, Zaytinya, minibar); Founder, World Central Kitchen; @chefjoseandres
- Alexis McKenney Community Organizer, Bread for the City and the D.C. Mutual Aid Network
- Libby Wetterer Medical Student and Volunteer, D.C. Covid Sitters
- Amber Seyler Organizer, D.C. Coronavirus Volunteers
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, where I'm broadcasting from home. Welcome.
FRED ROGERSYou know, my mother used to say, a long time ago, whenever there would be a catastrophe that was in the movies or on the air, she would say, "Always look for the helpers. There will always be helpers. You know, just on the sidelines." That's why I think that if news programs could make a conscious effort of showing rescue teams, of showing medical people, anybody who is coming into a place where there's a tragedy, to be sure that they include that, because if you look for the helpers, you'll know that there's hope.
NNAMDIThese are scary times we're living in. So, as Mr. Rogers just advised us, we're devoting this news program to looking for the helpers, because even in the midst of a global pandemic, there are people trying to ease the burdens of others. Some, like chef Jose Andres, cook, package and deliver meals to communities in need. Others are checking in on vulnerable neighbors to ensure their safety. Still, others are providing child care for hospital staff, or sewing masks for first responders. If you look, you'll find that helpers are really all around. And we'd like to hear from you. Joining us now is Chef Jose Andres, the Owner of Think Food Group and Founder of World Central Kitchen. Jose Andres, thank you for joining us.
JOSE ANDRESThank you for having me.
NNAMDISince the beginning of this outbreak, you have deeply involved in efforts to get meals to those in need, from passengers stranded aboard cruise ships to communities in this Washington region. Tell us a little bit about the work of World Central Kitchen in this time of coronavirus.
ANDRESWell, you know, I'm so proud of the team members of World Central Kitchen. When we saw that Yokohama happened with the Princess cruise ship, we partnered there with them and with the Japanese government to provide food relief to the 6,000 people on that cruise ship, many of them Americans. Then we did the same with the governor of California, in Oakland. Why cooks feeding in a ship, which is in quarantine? World Central Kitchen, we had a lot of experience from the Haiti days with cholera, and Mozambique. So, we can put our experience to adapt to this new situation, because we saw and we've been following what happened in Wuhan, in China, in Italy, in Spain now. We were following this from far away, so we knew that this was going to hit America, and that this could be really very bad.
ANDRESSo, we began doing our master planning in our brain of what it would take to feed America if things go down. So, we've been doing precisely that, a master plan to try to respond to the hot zones, the hot areas, where there is kind of -- the system breaks, where elderly people are not receiving their food or homeless are not fed anymore, because of the people doing it for some reasons, because health issues, they are shutting down, we go there almost like if we were firefighters. They respond to the fire, and they're amazing doing that. And we try, in this situation, respond to the needs of food, as the system breaks across America. That's what World Central Kitchen is doing.
NNAMDIJose, this is, of course, a precarious situation. What safety precautions are World Central Kitchen volunteers taking to protect themselves and the people you're preparing these meals for?
ANDRESWell, this is the amazing situation, that even if you want to help, you need to be careful, because you can put yourself in danger. You can put others in danger. You can put your teams in danger. So, we are not taking this lightly. So, obviously, the first thing we did many months ago was ordering masks and gloves, because now our doctors and nurses need the masks. All the masks we ordered for ourselves, we've been giving them away to seven, eight, nine different hospitals here. But we use bandanas. We use gloves. We make sure that we have perfect sanitation of surfaces, of our own bodies, our cars. We make sure that we are very conscious that, only by touching somebody else, we can be passing the virus to some other people.
ANDRESEspecially on the elderly. Remembering that when you feed the elderly the responsibility that you have to make sure that everybody is following the right protocols to protect that virus from keep moving from person to person. So, if you go to the World Central Kitchen, that org webpage there, you will the see the many things that we've doing to recommend to the industry and anybody else what they have to do to do cooking and making sure this is not the problem. What we know is that the virus doesn't pass through food. The virus dies at 26, 27 Celsius degrees. So, hot food, it's okay. The problem is the touching, the plastic containers, the to-go containers that we need to make sure that we have, again, the protocol in place with gloves and other methods, to make sure that that virus will not keep passing. So, that's the new era of coronavirus. Just feeding and doing good is not enough anymore. We need to do smart good. We need to learn from what the CDC is recommending, and follow all those rules to heart, making sure that the teams in the kitchen are smaller.
ANDRESMaking sure that everybody has the safe distance from each other, and making sure that when we deliver food to the homeless people, to the elderly people, to the firefighters and police, and them all, that we do it in the right way, so we are part of the solution, not part of the problem, because we have to feed people. Feeding is not something we can stop. That's why World Central Kitchen is taking this kind of lead to cover as many places we can in Washington and around the United States.
NNAMDIEarlier this month, you converted your restaurants in the Washington region into community kitchens. Exactly what is a community kitchen?
ANDRESBecause I saw that this was happening first, we were probably one of the restaurant group to announce a total shutdown of our restaurants, that some people, at the beginning, were surprised. But I wish even I did it the week before. But, to me, I was very worried that the restaurants were still full, like nothing was happening. And already, we saw what was happening again, in Italy and in Spain. And this was moving into the States. So, we shut down. And then, yes, I announced community kitchen. Why? Because these are not normal times. We cannot be running our restaurants like nothing is happening. We have to run them as community kitchens, to provide service to our community, elderly people that don't have access to go to supermarket, or people with immune problems, that they are afraid to go out and we need to be bringing them the food home. So, the community kitchen is a kitchen that is run by any private restaurant, that we keep our employees serving the community.
ANDRESWe sell food, but believe me, 75 percent of the food we do, we're giving it away for free. But if somebody wants to buy it or they want to even donate more, they can do it. But we make sure that we have, in place, the right systems to protect everybody. So, now that people don't go inside the community kitchen, they do a line outside. We have dots in the floor, so everybody is six feet away from each other. We make sure that everybody is protected. We have gloves. We have masks. We make sure that people can pay with their phone, or they can pay with other methods, without handing the credit card, or even money, which is a big no-no in this moment. We make sure we feed the lockout people, homeless and others, that they're in need of food. That's what a community kitchen is, who is here, at the service of our community, in an emergency. That's in the way I love to do it. That's in the way my teams love to be part of this, and joining forces with World Central Kitchen. Even World Central Kitchen that doesn't support us in any way or form.
ANDRESBut joining the forces of World Central Kitchen and showing any other restaurant how they can become a community kitchen and be part of the solution. I'm very happy that many people in Washington and around America are joining our efforts.
NNAMDIWhen you say many people in Washington and around America are joining your efforts, that has something to do with what you were quoted as saying in Time Magazine, when you were recently on the cover. You said, "What we've been able to do is weaponize empathy. Without empathy, nothing works." How have you been able to weaponize empathy? I know, of course, from personal relationships, that you are a person with a lot of empathy yourself. But how do you transfer that to other people? How do find it in other people?
ANDRESYou know, weaponized empathy, it's a lot of amazing gestures, that they seem like nothing, but they are meaningful. You don't need to try to feed the world. You only need to try to be taking care of the elderly person living down your street, that maybe at this moment shouldn't be going to the supermarket. That's where you weaponize empathy. You don't have to be doing huge things. Just a little gesture, when nobody is even watching. You are changing the life of somebody. In this case, you may be saving the life of somebody. Right now, we, the people that sit right at the heart of Washington, the creation of our democracy, those rewards have more power than ever before. Don't tell me what your country can do for you, but tell me what you can do for your country, in words of President Kennedy. This is these moments, were those phrases and those words have real moment, real meaning. And then sometimes we're going to help by staying home and following the rules.
ANDRESSometimes you're going to be doing it by doing the shopping to an elderly person near your place. There is going to be many ways that we can be supporting the work that the doctors and nurses are doing in the frontlines of this battle, in the hospitals of America and the world. The rest of us, we are behind, trying to make sure that we cover the ground. All of a sudden, that person that delivers the food at home, the pizza guy that sometimes we don't even look in their eyes and we barely tip them, all of a sudden, those men and women are heroes, because they're putting their life at risk to keep American fed. This is this moment of truth, where everyday citizens are going to become part of the solution and heroes, in my eyes, by doing amazing work in a moment of need.
NNAMDIJose, my calendar on my phone this morning told me that there was a game between the Washington Wizards and the Pelicans tonight. I would usually have expected to see you there. But neither you nor I will be there tonight, because there's no game. All of Maryland, D.C. and Virginia are now under stay-at-home orders. How is this affecting the work that you are doing?
ANDRESWell, our teams work under, obviously, a World Central Kitchen flag and we are considered, obviously, an emergency service. And so if anything makes life easier, I think -- I'm very happy that the Governor of Maryland and Virginia finally announced that. The Mayor of Washington D.C., I know, probably, wasn't an easy decision. I wish probably -- even probably they wish, too, that they even make this shutdown earlier. But for us, for World Central Kitchen, for our community kitchens, in this sense, it's okay, because we are here, doing a service to the community. And we are going to be opening a few more kitchens and doing a few more partnerships here in the metropolitan area, but then, obviously, across America.
NNAMDIYou only have about 30 seconds left, Jose.
ANDRESWe are in more than 22 cities in America, almost already, 150,000 meals a day. We are opening in Madrid. We are opening in Barcelona, as we speak. That's what World Central Kitchen is going to be doing.
NNAMDIChef Jose Andres is the Owner of Think Food Group and Founder of World Central Kitchen. Jose Andres, always a pleasure. Hopefully, we'll be able to see each other at Wizard's games next season.
ANDRESYou will. And thank you for what you're doing.
NNAMDIYou're more than welcome. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, you will meet other people who are volunteering to help during the course of this coronavirus pandemic. But we'd love to hear from you, too. Have you been helping friends, family and neighbors? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. What are you doing to help those in need? Shoot us a tweet @kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with people in this area who have been volunteering to help others in a variety of ways during this coronavirus pandemic, and asking you to share your stories by giving us a call, 800-433-8850. Are you someone who's offering to help neighbors? What precautions are you taking? 800-433-8850. Let's hear from Zafar in Fairfax, Virginia. Zafar, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ZAFARHi, Kojo. Hope you're doing well. So, I'm originally from Afghanistan, and I came here as a refugee. And when we came, our family had a lot of help from community members, and fortunately, you know, that helped us have a good footing in this country. And so I tried to give back, remembering those same people that helped me. And now, lately, we've had a lot of surge in SIVs from Afghanistan to here. They were, like, Army translators. So, by the thousands, they are here in the DMV area. And a lot of them resorted to driving for Uber and Lyft to make ends meet. And because of the virus, their business been down by like, you know, 80, 90 percent. And so what I'm doing, along with community, is try to find, you know, unemployment help for them. Trying to find other resources, other jobs. I actually used to have a food truck, and just this year, I got my own restaurant. But, you know, as luck would have it, now my restaurant is kind of dead.
ZAFARSo, I'm actually to do what Jose Andres was doing, and try to make it more like a community kitchen and, you know, do free meals for them, if I can. Just whatever way, because now I have time on my hands. And, you know, I can give that time back to them and try to help them out anyway I can.
NNAMDIAnd, Zafar, I am sure it is greatly appreciated, and thank you very much for what you're doing. And thank you for your call. Joining us now is Libby Wetterer, a Medical Student and Volunteer for D.C. COVID Sitters. Libby Wetterer, thank you for joining us.
LIBBY WETTERERHi, Kojo. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIWhat is D.C. COVID Sitters, and who is this service for?
WETTERERYeah. We are a completely student run group. Our organizers are from George Washington, Georgetown University and Howard Medical Schools. And we are a completely volunteer organization, made up of undergraduate, medical school and graduate students, who are providing childcare and other help with errands and grocery shopping for healthcare workers in the D.C. area. We are for, not just physicians and nurses, but also any employee of a hospital, including the custodial staff, food workers, anyone who is helping these hospitals and healthcare organizations stay afloat right now.
NNAMDIWhat inspired you to set up a service like this? Are there other initiatives that you modeled D.C. COVID Sitters after?
WETTERERYes, definitely. There are initiatives that are similar to this popping up throughout the country, usually associated with medical schools. There was one in particular in Minnesota, Minnesota COVID Sitters. And they've been really great about putting their framework online. And we've seen more and more initiatives, now, popping up across the country.
NNAMDIWhat motivated you to get involved?
WETTERERYeah. I think I've seen, throughout medical school, that it's just really important to organize a labor force, and that there are a lot of people who are willing to help. But it's helpful to have some sort of system to match want and need. So, it's not really the leaders of the organization that are important, but more so the fact that we have over 180 volunteers signed up, at this point. And we really are focused on trying to get more volunteers. So, we're looking any undergraduate, graduate, medical student, any sort of student that is more than 18 years of age that is in the DMV area can sign up by going to dccovidsitters.com.
NNAMDIHow do you do this kind of work safely?
WETTERERYeah. It's a great question. So, we acknowledge that there is an inherent risk in any sort of connection right now. And we do encourage all of our volunteers and participants to practice social distancing. We only match one to two students with each provider family. This is something that we talked about with our medical schools and other medical organizations. And we think that by doing this, we are still staying within the confines of social distancing, recognizing that these health care workers need childcare and other help with services, especially because things like schools and daycares have closed. That being said, we also recognize that the healthcare workers and anyone in the hospital are the people with greatest risk. And we really recognize and applaud them for that, and are just here to help support them.
NNAMDIHas the stay-at-home order changed anything for you?
WETTERERWe do not think that it will change anything for us. From what we have seen from what Muriel Bowser put out, it does not prohibit childcare providers from moving around. We are working on giving all of our volunteers a letter to carry with them, as well, from our organization, in case they come into any trouble.
NNAMDIHere is Rachel in Silver Spring, Maryland. Rachel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RACHELOh, thank you for taking my call, and thank you for this show. I'm on the other end. I don't have a car, and I became unemployed because of this. And I'm really just called to give a shout out to the people who are helping. I'm so grateful that friends have been calling and relatives and saying, "Is there anything we can do?" And actually doing it. Many thanks to Barbara Turner who brought me some flour, which I could not find in any store. And I bake my own bread, even when there's not a virus.
NNAMDIGood for you.
RACHELThank you. But the other thing is that what I have been able to do, I've been calling all my older relatives. You know, we all used to make phone calls all the time, back in the day. But you can just tell that they are relieved to be hearing from someone, to be checking in. And, you know, just a reminder that we're all out here, thinking of them.
RACHELAnd it doesn't have to be an elderly relative.
NNAMDIIt can be any relative.
RACHELIt could be any relative. I'm almost 60, but I like it when people call me. But it's just a reminder that the simplest thing, of just calling someone and saying, "Is there anything I can do to help?" And, "How are you doing today?" Makes a huge difference.
NNAMDIThank you very much for sharing your story with us, Rachel. Libby Wetterer, who is eligible to receive the services of D.C. COVID Sitters?
WETTERERYeah. So, really, anyone who works in a hospital in the D.C. area, including D.C. area suburbs. We ask that they upload a hospital I.D. so that we can confirm their identity and association with the hospital. But other than that, anyone who's working at healthcare organizations. That includes custodial staff, food services staff, respiratory therapists, nurses, nurse anesthetists, doctors. And we are especially trying to place on people who may not have the social capital to pay for child care at this moment.
NNAMDIAnd who is qualified to become a D.C. COVID Sitter?
WETTERERAnyone 18 years or older who is an undergraduate student, graduate student, nursing student or medical student who is currently in the D.C. area.
NNAMDIYou yourself are a fourth-year medical student. What has this disruption been like for you, personally?
WETTERERYeah. It's been very interesting. I was in the ICU at Georgetown when my rotations for the year were canceled. It was when we were just starting to see the first COVID cases in D.C. And my last patient of medical school was a patient who had COVID. And I now match into family medicine in the Bronx, and it is likely that my first patient of residency will also be a COVID patient. While it is scary times, I think that it's going to be a very interesting framework for my entire medical career, and one that I hope inspires greater change in our medical system, so that we move towards a possibly single-payer, Medicare-for-all system, and additionally one where we integrate public health with our system so that this is hopefully prevented or better managed in the future.
NNAMDIIt would appear that this pandemic, rather than causing you to shy away from a medical career, has reinforced your determination to pursue a medical career. Is that correct?
WETTERERYeah, definitely. I realize that I'm at a place of privilege, at the moment, because I am not directly on the frontlines. And I have spoken with my future colleagues, and they are scared and sick and without PPE. So, I'm not entirely sure if I would feel exactly the same way in their places. But at this point I do feel, motivated. Yes.
NNAMDIThank you so much for joining us. Libby Wetterer is a Medical Student and Volunteer for D.C. COVID Sitters. Libby Wetterer, thank you for joining us, and good luck to you.
WETTERERThanks so much, Kojo.
NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. I'm broadcasting from home, and we're talking to people who have been helping others during this coronavirus pandemic. Here's Naomi in Berk, Virginia. Naomi, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NAOMIHi. Thanks for taking my call. I am a current University of Virginia student, but due to the coronavirus, I've moved up back to the Northern Virginia area with my parents. And in between taking classes online, I've been trying to volunteer as a photographer. There's a lot of seniors like me who aren't going to have any kind of graduation ceremony or be able to maybe even have the money to pay for professional portraits. So, in addition to going out and obviously maintaining social distance while taking these portraits, I've also been trying to look for opportunities to do family pictures and help out other people by taking pictures and helping them remind them of the good stuff in life.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Maintaining social distance does not mean ending social relationships, and your work is proof of that, Naomi. So, thank you very much for your call, and good luck to you.
NNAMDIJoining us now is Alexis McKenney, a community organizer with Bread for the City and the D.C. Mutual Aid Network. Alexis McKenney, thank you for joining us.
ALEXIS MCKENNEYHi. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIYou are, it is my understanding, coordinating the Mutual Aid Network in Wards 7 and 8. What is Mutual Aid, exactly, and how does it work?
MCKENNEYYeah. So, Mutual Aid is basically when communities come together and combine resources and help each other out. And so it's very different from charity and a lot of other direct services that happen outside of these kinds of catastrophes. Mutual Aid is really a form of political participation. where we are changing each other's material conditions and making sure that folks can survive, you know, while our governments kind of are not filling in those gaps. And it's also about building new social relations between people and our resources.
NNAMDIYou make a point of saying that Mutual Aid is not charity. Why is that an important distinction for you?
MCKENNEYYeah. It's important because, I think, with charity, there are, like, two sides, right. There's the people who have the resources who are giving food, who are giving, you know, money, giving jobs. And then there are the people who are receiving those things, and so they're the binary. And there's a power dynamic within charity work, where the people who are receiving the services are not empowered. They're not a part of, you know, a relationship outside of receiving that service from, you know, whatever organization or individual.
MCKENNEYMutual Aid is when a community collectively comes together and redistributes resources in a way that the most marginalized receive the things that they need. With the Mutual Aid, the folks who are giving aid can also receive aid. So, for example, I'm in Wards 7 and 8, and we have a Mutual Aid hotline where we, you know, deliver food and hygiene supplies and diapers to people. I also have received some of the food from the hotline. And so, it's not a binary, where the people who are giving are only giving and have this kind of power over the folks who are receiving. We're all kind of helping each other.
NNAMDIWhat motivated you to get involved with this work?
MCKENNEYI think, you know, being an organizer in D.C., there were already crises that were happening, you know, around gun violence, around homelessness. In my day job, I'm a housing organizer for the city, so I was already kind of doing work around these things. They were really great folks who were doing Mutual Aid before corona in Ward 1 and 4.
MCKENNEYAnd so, this really seemed like a thing I had to be involved with, to make sure the folks in my community have what they needed. As the city begins to shut down more and more, people are losing their jobs, people don't have access to food or child care. And so, you know, if we don't do it, then nobody else will, right.
NNAMDIWhat makes the coronavirus pandemic especially hard for communities in ward 7 and 8?
MCKENNEYI think, you know, the main thing is, you know, we haven't even hit the peak yet in D.C. And wards 7 and 8 doesn't even -- east of the river, we don't even have a fully functioning hospital. And so what does it mean when, you know, there's a spike in corona cases here, east of the river, and folks don't even have access to adequate healthcare? We also don't have enough grocery stores here, right. And so even just the amount of food and resources on this side of the river, on this side of the city is much less than, you know, in the northwest quadrant.
MCKENNEYAnd also with folks who have children, who are in school who, you know, don't have anything to do or are having to do online classes, but don't have access to internet. So, those kinds of things definitely have a higher impact on this side of the city, but definitely are impacting folks all over.
NNAMDIHere's Christina Conrad at the University of Maryland. Christina Conrad, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISTINA CONRADHi. Thank you so much for having me.
CONRADMy story is I'm a PhD student in the department of bioengineering. And myself and another PhD student in our department started a medical supplies drive across campus. So far, we've reached around 29 different labs in various departments and we've been able to collect personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks, the N95s, shoe covers, goggles. And we've been able to donate them to the local hospitals in Prince George's County, the University of Maryland Medical Center, Johns Hopkins and Greater Baltimore Medical Center.
NNAMDIWell, thank you very much for doing that, and I'm sure they were very, very welcom at those healthcare institutions. Christina Conrad, thank you for your call.
NNAMDIAlexis McKenney, you have begun a kind of, I guess, coronavirus education initiative. Tell us about that, and why is it so important?
MCKENNEYYeah, so I have not started anything. I think this is really a community that has emerged in response to coronavirus. But, right now, we're really focusing on how people can organize within their neighborhoods, especially with the stay-at-home order. So, we've been developing some education around pod mapping, which is basically getting in touch with your neighbors, starting a group chat through, you know, Group Me, WhatsApp, Signal, I Message or whatever, to make sure that you all can stay in communication, stay informed. And actually be able to do Mutual Aid within your block or your neighborhood. So, that's what a lot of the education has looked like.
MCKENNEYAlso, within our network we start, you know, our citywide calls, which usually have, you know, upwards of 100 to 130 people on them with a political education. There are many political educations, so our first one was about kind of what we talked about the beginning of the conversation, of what is Mutual Aid? How is it different from charity? We're also talking about how health protocol and safety protocol is changing. So, just trying to keep people informed on all the different aspects of the way this pandemic is affecting our world.
NNAMDIIf someone is in need of help, how can they get it from the D.C. Mutual Aid Network, Alexis?
MCKENNEYYeah, so they -- most of the Wards -- we're organized by Ward. So, in Wards 7 and 8, we have a hotline, and so you can call 202-630-0336 if you are east of the river. And then there are different hotlines for each Ward. So, I would definitely say go on Facebook and look for the D.C. Mutual Aid Network Facebook group. And there you can find more information about the different hotlines and resources, as well as get involved in organizing alongside us.
NNAMDI(overlapping) I was about to say, and if someone wants to offer a hand with this work, how can they get involved? Go to the same website?
MCKENNEYMm-hmm, yep. And then there's also a Gmail, which is email@example.com.
NNAMDIAlexis McKenney is a community organizer with Bread for the City and the D.C. Mutual Aid Network. Alexis, thank you so much for joining us, and good luck to you.
NNAMDIGot an email from Peggy, who says: I'm currently making masks to go over the N95 mask, to extend the life of the N95 masks. As a retired nurse, I want to caution people who are using cloth masks to please remove and launder masks as soon as they become damp. They become damp with just normal breathing. Damp masks will act like a sponge and draw the bacteria and viruses directly from the outside layer of the mask, to their faces and noses. Scrubbing masks by hand with warm soap and water will remove the virus.
NNAMDII am not exactly sure about that, but Peggy obviously knows a lot more about this than I do. So, it seems as if this is good advice. Let's go on now to Amber Seyler who is an organizer for the D.C. Coronavirus Volunteers. Amber Seyler, thank you so much for joining us.
AMBER SEYLERThank you so much, Kojo.
NNAMDICan you tell us about the COVID-19 relief work you're doing in partnership with the Table Church?
SEYLERSure. So, this started off as just kind of a Ward 6 outreach. Does anyone in the neighborhood need groceries. Are you in quarantine? Are you high risk? And it's just really exploded. We have about 2,800 volunteers all around D.C. and then up in Maryland and in northern Virginia. And, you know, we're taking individual requests. People can reach out to us and let us know, you know, they can't leave their house, they need groceries. They need someone to walk their dog. I mean, we'll help them however they need.
SEYLERAnd then we also have found that we've become a bit of a clearinghouse for -- a lot of different organizations are saying, you know, hey, we see you have a lot of volunteers. Can we sort of partner with you? And you can send some of your volunteers in our direction to help with, you know, for instance, Bread for the City. We're sending volunteers their way. We're sending volunteers to the Capitol Area food banks. And, you know, 2,800 volunteers, that's quite a lot, so we can try to keep them all busy, and helping as much as they can in their communities.
NNAMDIAmber, you've said that people are clamoring for help, to the point where you almost don't have enough volunteer opportunities for everyone who expresses interest. What do you recommend for those people?
SEYLERWell, what I'm trying to do is I'm trying to make it easy for them to volunteer. I send out -- in addition to the individual requests that we get for assistance, I send out an email every day to all of our volunteers that basically lists all the different places that I know of that they can give time, give resources, give financial donations so that they can be helping. I think people feel really scared and kind of powerless right now. And being able to help gives people a little bit of that power back. It makes them feel like they have a bit of control in this crisis that we're going through.
SEYLERAnd so, you know, as soon as I hear about an organization that may need more volunteers or resources, I put that in my daily email newsletter. And I've gotten feedback from these organizations, saying, absolutely, we're getting a lot of volunteers through you. So, I will continue to do that, and I'll continue to add to the list. And that way people -- they're basically being handed the opportunities to volunteer. And when it's that easy for them, they're following through. They're doing it.
NNAMDIHere's Heather in Ward 1, in Washington. Heather, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HEATHERThanks for taking my call. My comment relates to a D.C. government transportation program for persons with disabilities that has been expanded for the second half of April, to permit grocery shopping. So, persons with disabilities who are registered with Metro Access can take Transport D.C. taxi rides for $5 one way, instead of using Metro Access vans. This is only for D.C. residents for travel in D.C.
HEATHERSo, the expansion is that Transport D.C. will allow registered Metro Access customers to use Transport D.C. taxis from April 16th to the 30th to go to grocery stores. Usually, trips in the second half of the month are permitted only for employment and medical appointments. Transport D.C. riders can go anywhere in D.C. the first half of the month. The Transport D.C. number is 844-322-7732. Transport D.C. has a list of grocery stores. Again, this is only for registered Metro Access customers with disabilities, regardless of age or income. I think this is a great expansion by Transport D.C.
NNAMDIOkay. Heather, thank you very much for sharing that information with us. Amber Seyler, it seems to me that, when you say in times like this, people fall through the cracks, what Heather was talking about is trying to make sure that people who have disabilities, who have access to D.C. Metro Access don't fall through the cracks. Who else falls through the cracks during periods like this?
SEYLERWell, first of all, I wanted to also thank Heather for saying that. I think that people with disabilities, like, that's one of the most vulnerable populations. I mean, they struggle even in the best of times to get treated with the same -- given the same accommodations, given the same opportunities. So, that's great, but right now, our elderly community members, people who are a bit more vulnerable to this virus or high risk, they're definitely falling through the cracks, and a lot of them don't know who to turn to. You know, their cupboards are bare, and they have never been in this position before. They're used to being able to sort of maintaining, so they're falling through the cracks.
SEYLERWe have families -- we have so many immigrant families that are falling through the cracks. A lot of them are losing their jobs. They have no income coming in. We have a lot of them in transitional housing, and they're scared to leave their homes. They're scared to leave their transitional housing. They have no idea who to turn to. They're falling through the cracks. I mean, school children that aren't getting a meal in school, the list is very long. And so we are doing our best to try to help any and all of those people.
NNAMDIWhat are you doing to help them?
SEYLERSo, in addition to, like I said, spreading the word about other organizations that are providing resources, we are -- you can go to TheTableChurchDC.org, and there's a COVID-19 community response page. Click on that, and there's a link that you can go to, if you want to volunteer. And there's a link that you can go to to fill out a form to request assistance.
SEYLERIf you go and you fill out that form, you can indicate, you know, your address, so that we know what ward you're in, what neighborhood you're in, and how we can contact you, and what you need. Do you just need someone -- are you, you know, compromised and you can't even take your dog for a walk right now? We'll send someone to walk your dog for you, three or four times a day, if that's what you need. Do you need groceries?
SEYLERWe get groceries for people whether they can pay for them or not. And, you know, some people just can't leave their house, and they need someone to just run that errand for them. But some people don't have the resources to pay for it, so we're doing that.
SEYLERWe are, you know, making sure that people understand what's going on. I talked to some people, especially some of, you know, the elderly community members that are kind of confused about what's going on. And they are very isolated, they're very scared. And they just need someone to talk to, honestly. And they need to feel like they're not completely alone. And what I try to do is I get these people paired up with someone near them that can be a point of contact for them. They can just call them if they need to chat, or if they need someone to go get toilet paper or, you know, bleach or something.
SEYLERAnd if they have someone they know they can talk to, it makes them not feel so alone. So, we're trying to set up wellness calls so that people who are part of this kind of isolated, vulnerable community, they can get on a list, and we can pair them up with someone who can do these wellness calls and just call and chat with them or do video chats, if that person has that capability. And just foster community, foster connectedness. And, you know, just like Jose Andres says, weaponize empathy. Let's show people we care.
NNAMDIIndeed. Here is Christina in Arlington, Virginia. Christina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISTINAHi. Yes, I'm one of the coordinators of another effort that's reaching out to show care and concern to our local healthcare providers who are on the frontline, and many of whom are pretty worried about just how many supplies they'll have to protect themselves. So, we are sewing masks, and shortly, we'll be starting to sew surgical caps and some other items, as well, requested by hospitals.
CHRISTINASince we got started on March 22nd, we have had our craftivists make and deliver more than 6,700 masks to healthcare providers. And we've organized more than 800 volunteers, regionally. And then we're part of a community on our Facebook page with about 2,300 members. And we basically came up with patterns that could be made very quickly. And our goal right now is to make as many as possible and get them into the hands of people who may need them. A big focus has been to cover up the N95 respirator with a nice, thick double layered mask to protect the cover of them. So, if a worker has to extend the life of their N95, we can protect the cover of that from surface contamination.
NNAMDIChristina, thank you very much for your call and for your efforts. Back to you, Amber Seyler. Working mostly with an elderly population, what safety precautions are you taking?
SEYLERSo, I make sure I express both to our volunteers and to the people who are requesting help how important it is that they follow pretty rigorous, you know, prevention protocols to keep themselves and everyone else safe. Our volunteers know that -- I ask them, please don't do grocery deliveries or any sort of in-person errands unless they have hand sanitizer. If they don't -- or gloves. And if they don't have hand sanitizers or gloves, then there are -- you know, they could spend time at the food bank or working -- volunteering in a place where they can regularly wash their hands with soap and water. But if you're delivering groceries, you need to be hand-sanitizing.
SEYLERAlso, when they drop off the groceries, we have them put the groceries at the door, step back, let the person know that their groceries are there and then, you know, wait for them to take them in so that they can make sure they get them safely, and then leave. Don't do a handoff. And then also I'm letting the people know who request assistance, when you get those groceries in your home, wipe them down with some sort of disinfectant. If you have just diluted bleach water, wipe them down, spray it with Lysol, soapy water.
SEYLERDo your part to make sure, because I can make sure my volunteers are following hygiene protocols, but I don't have any control over who's touched those items before they did. So, I say to these people, take these groceries, wash them down, and then wash your hands. Do everything you can to control it from your side of it.
NNAMDIWhat can individuals who want to help, do to get involved with your organization, Amber?
SEYLERSo, they can reach out. Like I said, go to that TheTableChurchDC.org and fill out our volunteer form that can be found -- they can click the link on that page. If they fill out that form, then we will be in touch with them. They'll also get my daily email that says other ways that they can get involved in their communities. As our individual requests increase -- which I'm sure that they are going to increase dramatically in the coming weeks -- we'll be able to keep people pretty busy.
SEYLERIf they're, themselves, over the age of 60 or, you know, compromised in some way, but still want to help, we have administrative help that they can help with. They can do wellness calls. They can, you know, help us get the word out by printing out supplies, printing out flyers and having other people hang up the flyers for them. And they can also help by just making sure they stay inside, they isolate themselves, so that they don't get sick and then end up being part of the overwhelming presence at hospitals, that one day is going to become a big problem here.
NNAMDIAmber Seyler is an organizer for D.C. Coronavirus Volunteers. Amber Seyler, thank you so much for joining us.
SEYLERThank you so much, Kojo.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Annie who said: we have turned our little free library into a pantry. We encourage folks to use a gloved hand, and wipe everything down that they leave or take. We have canned and dry goods and toiletries. We live next to a large number of apartments, and people are using this very small community service. And I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Our thanks to all of our participants in the broadcast today, including those who called in to share their stories, and those of you who are listening who may not have had the opportunity to get on the air, but who are also helping friends, neighbors and working with organizations at this time of the coronavirus pandemic. Today's show was produced by Julie Depenbrock. Before we go, we'd like to take a moment to remember jazz trumpeter and composer Wallace Roney, who passed away yesterday at the age of 59 from complications due to COVID-19. Roney was a graduate of Duke Ellington School of the Arts and Howard University. Mentored by Miles Davis, he rose to prominence in the world of modern jazz music.
NNAMDIAnd critic and columnist Stanley Crouch once described him as, quoting here, "one of the best band leaders in the music." I would add also one of the best players of the music. So, here's to you, Wallace Roney.
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