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Kindness proves contagious as coronavirus spreads

People are networking and offering to open their homes or go shopping for neighbors as the state works to stop a pandemic.

Joy Gary (left) and Yvonne Pope bagged food for students and families who may need it in the event Boston Public Schools shuts down classes in the near future.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

They’ve been told to stay separated — at least six feet apart, preferably — and to practice what state and local officials are calling “social distancing.” Some have been ordered to work from home.

But as people try to follow guidelines to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, the resulting chaos and fear are in many ways bringing communities both large and small closer together — even as cases mount across the nation and the world.

Simple acts of kindness are sprouting up online and in public, as neighbors, students, teachers, and others try to bridge the gap between those who can weather what could be a long and isolating ordeal, and the people who may not have the means to get by.


For Jesse Farren-James, helping out has taken the form of organizing trips to the grocery store for supplies, and use of her Costco membership if anyone needs to buy in bulk. She posted the offer in a Facebook group for Hyde Park residents that boasts 3,000 members. She got some takers.

“I just feel so lucky that I have so many people in my life to lean on and so heartbroken that not everyone has that,” she wrote in the group.

In a follow-up interview, Farren-James, who works in Waltham, said the “community is coming together" and “there’s so many good and amazing people” offering to help where they can.

Parents in Dorchester have also been mobilizing through social media.

In a Facebook group called DotParents, an online form has been circulating to raise money to buy food and supplies for students and families in the city’s largest neighborhood, in the event that more Boston Public Schools close in the coming days.

Lisa Graustein, a Dorchester mother and former BPS teacher, has been leading the charge. On Thursday, she planned to take the more than $2,000 raised by neighbors and put it toward items purchased through a restaurant supply company in Needham. A group of volunteers bagged up the food Thursday and planned to drop it off at schools in the community for those who may need it.


Food insecurity is real in our city and this crisis is going to exasperate that exponentially,” Graustein said in a telephone interview. “Everyone is feeling anxiety and uncertainty, and besides avoiding social contact and washing our hands there’s not a lot to do. But here’s something we can do that directly addresses the hard outcomes of this disease.”

Bags of food waited to be loaded into vehicles to be delivered to students and families who may need it.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

The idea caught on. She said friends in four other states have since adopted similar campaigns. Next, she wants to find a way to get landlords to temporarily waive rent for residents who could be struggling financially due to the outbreak.

At Harvard University, which announced Tuesday that students should not return to campus housing after spring break, an online sign-up sheet was started to help those facing burdens when it comes to traveling; finding a place to live, since they can’t remain on campus after March 15; and storing property.

“If you are able to host a student for a short duration after Sunday until they are able to return home, or are able to store some students’ belongings for the rest of the spring semester and through the summer (until late August / early September), we would greatly appreciate the help in this difficult and confusing time,” says the form started by Harvard Primus, a community for first-generation and low-income students.


Students and faculty at other colleges have also been banding together, offering assistance and guidance to anyone navigating last-minute moving plans.

Joy Gary bagged food for students and families who may need it in the event BPS shuts down classes in the near future.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

At Wellesley College — which announced Thursday that students must leave campus housing by next week if they’re able — an online group was created with the idea of students, alums, faculty, and staff coalescing to provide assistance to those “scrambling to find a safe place to land.”

Neeraja Deshpande, a first-year student at the school, said within the private Facebook group, accommodations are being made so people aren’t panicking and there’s a backup plan in place to absorb the sudden impact of any lifestyle changes.

She said people have been offering to give away frequent flier miles so students can get back home, store belongings, give rides across the country, and open their doors for temporary lodging.

Deshpande, who is making space available at her parents’ house in Arlington, said the online group is "a great community, and I think in some weird ways it’s brought us closer together.”

“I just don’t want people to be worrying about getting home and finding plane tickets,” she said.

Some businesses have even stepped up.

When Framingham closed its schools this week after a resident tested positive for Covid-19, Jack Hendler, co-owner of Jack’s Abby, announced that the popular brewery and restaurant was cooking up free half-pizzas for the city’s students.


“We’ll hand out as much pizza as we have dough available,” he said on Twitter Thursday.

Joy Gary, program assistant and market manager for Greater Ashmont Main Street, loaded her car with food bags.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

The sentiment brought “tears” to State Representative Maria Robinson’s eyes.

“We’re fortunate that this business that grew up in Framingham cares enough to give back to our city,” Robinson said in an e-mail to the Globe.

In other instances of kindness spreading, strangers have jumped into action to be of service in simpler ways.

Twice on recent flights between Toronto and Boston, Chelsea resident Nicky Enriquez found herself in conversation with people sitting nearby, despite news beginning to ramp up about the spread of the coronavirus.

She said in one case last week, an older couple across the aisle commented as she determinedly tried to spray down her seat with Lysol.

“I laughed and told them that I actually preferred wipes, but I couldn’t find any anywhere,” she said in a message to the Globe. “They insisted I take some [of their] wipes to disinfect my area ... I felt that COVID-19 invited passengers to commiserate, talk, and band together.”

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.