Stories of Essential Workers & Everyday People Doing Heroic Deeds During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Postal workers, delivery drivers and more have stepped up to help their neighbors amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak
FDNY's Joe Hudak Shares What Its like to Battle COVID-19
The 56-year-old rescue paramedic told PEOPLE, "What we’re seeing now is off the charts. We went through like 30 calls where you’re losing, like, every person. You’re wishing you could do more. This virus is taking its toll.”
Infection and death have hit the department too, with 10 staff members dead as of April 27 from COVID-19, including four EMTs, and 508 on medical leave with diagnosed cases. Hudak’s girlfriend has asthma so he hasn’t gone home in five weeks and is staying in a hotel made available to first responders. His days — normally 12-hour shifts, three days on, two off — have stretched to 16-hour shifts six days a week.
“You can’t see the enemy,” he said. “Of course I’m scared.”
But from all over the city he can hear the 7 p.m. nightly cacophony of cheers and pot-banging from residents honoring those on the front lines, and it lifts his spirits.
“It’s nice,” he said. “We’re in the field of helping out people; that’s what I love about this job.”
Texas Teen Donates 11K Masks to Hospital
Xu told PEOPLE in late April 2020 that she had no hesitations about springing into action when she began to notice a shortage of masks and PPE in hospitals across the U.S.
“This is something that’s happening nationwide,” the 15-year-old student said. “Especially in a first world country like the U.S., these things should not be happening and I think as people in this country, we have a civic duty to try and help these [first responders] any way possible.”
Xu began fundraising to help the cause and ultimately raised enough money to purchase and donate 11,200 masks to UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas on April 24.
“I’m just really happy that I’m able to make a difference and want to show that Asian Americans are with health workers and we want to unite,” the teen said.
Woman Hangs Homemade Face Masks on Tree for Her Community
In late March, Deb Siggins, 55, from Iowa began to sew masks for health care workers after UnityPoint St. Luke's hospital disclosed that they were experiencing a mask shortage, Good Morning America reported. People started to express their interest in her designs, so she decided to make them for her community for free. In order to comply with social distancing rules, she hung them on a tree outside her home for people to take.
“It was hard to reach everybody so I just put on Facebook that I had a mask tree,” Siggins, who works at a doctor’s office, told the outlet. “I’m a giver, not a taker, so I feel really good.”
Siggins initially set out to create 100 masks for the hospital staff at St. Luke’s, according to GMA. She quickly reached that goal and then started to realize that others were asking for them, which prompted her to keep going.
She has since made close to 600 masks, but was forced to get creative in order to distribute them to her community, she explained in the video interview.
“With social distancing, they would come and pick up the masks and leave,” she explained in the video interview. “They can help themselves. You’re keeping your distance and it’s fun watching the people and guess who’s pulling in the driveway.”
FedEx Driver Sanitizes Package for Little Girl with Autoimmune Disorder
A FedEx delivery driver is being celebrated for disinfecting a package he was delivering to the home of an 11-year-old girl who has an autoimmune disorder.
“We have a sign on our door for packages/mail as our 11 year old daughter is a type 1 diabetic [and] our federal express delivery guy wrote this on our box: ‘I sanitized your box once I’ve seen the note on your door,' " mom Carrie Blasi tweeted alongside images of the package left at her front door.
The package had clearly been wiped down, as it had liquid stains on the scanner sticker, and at the top of the box was the note from the driver.
“You can tell that he used sanitizer wipes on the box. Amazing!!!” Blasi added.
The driver’s good deed was also caught on Blasi’s security camera, which she has since shared to YouTube.
As for why she shared the sweet moment, Blasi told PEOPLE, “I wanted to encourage others to be kind and helpful, especially during this time.”
Doctors and Nurses Dance to 'Don't Stop Believin'' as COVID Patient Gets Discharged
To celebrate the release of their coronavirus patients, the staff at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens Hospital in N.Y.C. has been lining the halls as the patients leave and dancing around to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'”.
A video of one of the emotional moments was posted to the hospital’s Twitter on April 14. In the clip, two patients in wheelchairs are pushed down the hall as staffers celebrate with cheers and applause.
“As a message of hope during these challenging times, #NYPQueens plays Journey’s 'Don’t Stop Believin’' throughout the hospital each time a #COVID19 patient is discharged and on the road to recovery,” the hospital wrote beside the video.
Delivery Driver Works Nights While Caring for Her Child with Special Needs by Day
D’Shea Grant has been delivering food and other essential items across Brooklyn and Queens in N.Y.C. — the two hardest-hit areas in the city — from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. so she can take care of her 20-year-old daughter during the day.
"As soon as I am done with a delivery, I take the gloves off, put them in a garbage bag and wash my hands with soap and water again," she told PEOPLE. "It’s a routine, just takes a little bit longer. However, I keep myself and my clients safe."
"DoorDash also has the no-contact option — the way to drop off the food without touching anyone and they don’t touch me," she continued. "So, let’s say if I have 15 orders in a night, 12 of those orders will be no contact orders. But even if they are not, I still practice the no-contact order format. I don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable grabbing the food."
During the day, Grant helps her daughter with her school work.
"I’ll get up in the morning and do the online classes with her," said Grant. "It’s a little bit different than your normal online classes because there is more physical contact that I have to be involved with. Certain things I have to place her hand on to let her know, this is what we’re doing today."
"We have a routine that I try to make sure I keep it steady," she added. "I am very hands-on with her, which is nothing new to me because I’ve been hands-on with her from the very beginning. I call myself a pop-up parent because you’ll never know when I’ll be there. Because my daughter can’t speak for herself, I’m her advocate. I’m her eyes, ears, feet — I’m everything for her."
Teen Pilot Flies Medical Supplies to Hospitals in Rural Virginia
Since school has ended early for 16-year-old TJ Kim, he's been using his free time to lend a helping hand to healthcare workers.
Though he doesn’t even have a driver’s license, Kim has been flying gloves, masks, gowns and other equipment to small hospitals in rural Virginia, in an effort he calls Operation SOS — Supplies Over Skies, according to the Associated Press.
“They kind of conveyed to me that they were really forgotten about. Everyone was wanting to send donations to big city hospitals,” he told the AP. “Every hospital is hurting for supplies, but it’s the rural hospitals that really feel forgotten.”
Kim made his first delivery on March 27 to a small, 25-bed hospital in Luray, located about 85 miles away. The most recent shipment saw him fly “3,000 gloves, 1,000 headcovers, 500 shoe covers, 50 non-surgical masks, 20 pairs of protective eyewear and 10 concentrated bottles of hand sanitizer” to a hospital in Woodstock, the outlet reported.
“For TJ to be more concerned with the needs of others in his melancholy state just reiterated to me how amazing this young man is,” Kim’s flight instructor, Dave Powell, told the AP.
Kim plans to fly to all seven rural hospitals that are labeled “critical access” in Virginia.
Hospital Staff Help Celebrate Two Doctors on What Would've Been Their Wedding Day
Shelun Tsai, an OB/GYN resident at Duke University School of Medicine, and Michael Sun, a Duke psychiatry resident, celebrated what would have been their wedding day with an impromptu ceremony, thanks to their thoughtful colleagues. The two medical residents were set to tie the knot on April 11, but the coronavirus forced them to postpone their plans.
The Department of OB/GYN at Duke University School of Medicine shared photos of the gathering, and said that the couple’s family and friends tuned in via Zoom.
“It was a celebratory commemoration with vows and joy!” the department wrote on Twitter. “Future official wedding will be upcoming.”
Tsai and Sun met in college and got engaged in 2016, according to Good Morning America.
Tsai told the outlet that her colleagues knew the couple had been forced to postpone, but they didn’t realize how soon their big day was coming up.
“It started out small, that they wanted to make me a wedding dress, then it was a veil, then flowers and then it became everyone chipping in and jumping onboard,” she said.
Brooklyn Landlord Waives Rent for His Tenants
Mario Salerno, who owns about 80 apartments throughout Williamsburg and Greenpoint, left a note for the residents of his properties, which read “Due to the recent pandemic of Coronavirus COVID-19 affecting all of us, please note I am waiving rent for the month for April,” NBC New York reported.
“Stay safe, help your neighbors and wash your hands,” the note concluded.
Explaining his reason for doing the selfless deed, Salerno told the outlet that he simply wants “everybody to be healthy.”
“That’s the whole thing,” he said.
“For me, it was more important for people’s health and worrying about who could put food on whose table,” Salerno told the outlet. “I say don’t worry about paying me, worry about your neighbor and worry about your family.”
Salerno’s gesture has been a tremendous help to his residents, with tenant Kaitlyn Guteski telling NBC New York, “He’s Superman.”
99-Year-Old Man Raises $19 Million for U.K. Healthcare Workers by Walking 100 Laps in His Garden
Ahead of his 100th birthday on April 30, Captain Tom Moore vowed to raise money for the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) by walking 100 laps in his backyard garden, according to his JustGiving fundraising page.
Moore, with assistance from his walker, completed his goal two weeks early, officially finishing his 100th lap on April 16, which was documented by BBC One’s morning news show, Breakfast. He also marked another incredible accomplishment: raising more than £15.4 million (approximately $19 million) for the cause.
“It’s been the most incredible and emotional day for me,” he wrote on his Twitter page, which is run by his 16-year-old grandson Benji, according to CNN. “Thank you to everyone that has helped with this amazing cause.”
Anonymous Donor Gives $82K Worth of Gift Cards to Families in Earlham, Iowa
In March, a mystery donor spent $82,350 to purchase three $50 gift cards for all 549 households in the Iowa town of Earlham, home to more than 1,400 residents, the Des Moines Register reported. The generous gesture was meant to help local businesses and families who are struggling during the pandemic.
“[There are] bad things that have been happening,” Mayor Jeff Lillie told the Register. “As the mayor of a small town, making the decision to close our community centers and city hall and our library and all of the other bad decisions that we’ve been forced to make — and then here’s this really great thing. It just tore down my walls.”
Maryland Teens Start No-Contact Delivery Service for Seniors
High school students Matt Casertano, 15, and Dhruv Pai, 16, worked together to create Teens Helping Seniors, a free program dedicated to delivering essentials to the elderly in late March, with the hopes of helping those who may have difficulties with leaving their homes for groceries and medication.
The service provides no-contact delivery to minimize the risk of spreading the virus. Seniors who require assistance can email Teens Helping Seniors with their address and grocery list and the organization will connect them with a volunteer who can help pick up and drop off their request at their doorstep.
Casertano told PEOPLE he started the program with Pai after delivering groceries to his grandparents, one of whom was hospitalized for three months last year after coming down with the flu.
“My grandparents are both living in an apartment building,” he said. “So when this virus came around, I was obviously extremely worried because he’s in a building where he has to be around a lot of people to get anywhere.”
“I know there are a lot of seniors who don’t have any family to fall back on during this time and life must be especially hard for them,” Pai explained. “I thought, Maybe there’s a way I could help them as a teen, who is in a lower age risk group for during the coronavirus pandemic.”
To ensure everyone’s safety, volunteers will shop for seniors while wearing masks and gloves and wipe down bags before dropping them off at the front door. They will also call clients 15 minutes before a delivery so they can leave payment for grocery costs at the door for the volunteer to pick up.
Doctor Secures 650 Tablets So COIVD Patients 'Dying Alone' Can See Loved Ones for Last Time
When Dr. Ee Tay learned from her colleagues at N.Y.C.’s Bellevue Hospital that many coronavirus patients were dying alone with no way to communicate with their loved ones, she made it her mission to collect tablets that could be used for video chatting.
Thanks to social media and the help of Bank of New York Mellon, Tay was able to arrange for the donation of about 650 tablets to NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue, including Bellevue Hospital and other local hospitals like Elmhurst and Jacobi.
“To have that support, and know that your family is near and thinking of you, I think that’s really important for recovery,” Tay told PEOPLE. “And [to know] that you’re not alone or you’re not dying alone.”
“It’s really important for the families,” she said of her choice to collect tablets over phones. “They need some sort of closure.”
“Since you can’t have somebody physically being there, this is the next best thing,” she said. “Even though the patients can’t necessarily speak to the family members, the family members [can] perhaps bid them goodbye and [send] well wishes and words of comfort during that time.”