COVID-19 has impacted everyone's lives. Some of us are feeling overwhelmed and it can be difficult to see the bright spots. MPR News wants to find them, and we need your help. Share a story of how someone has helped you or someone you know get through this difficult time.
Here are some of the helpers we’ve heard about so far…
Because the new coronavirus is especially dangerous for older adults and those with underlying health conditions, the need for services for those stuck in their homes has increased. Several nonprofits say volunteers have come forward in greater numbers as well. Read the full story here.
“Carl Ender started volunteering at The Sheridan Story when all of his regular volunteer gigs shuttered for COVID-19. The Sheridan Story’s mission is to fight child hunger through school and community partnerships, and Carl liked that his time packing non-perishable bags of food would ultimately benefit the children he used to serve as a reading tutor.
After volunteering for a week, doing 3-hour-long morning shifts, Monday through Friday, Carl heard that The Sheridan Story needed to pack more food in order to keep up with the need in our community, and he began staying for the afternoon shifts, putting in six hours of volunteer work, five days a week! Carl became an expert at every aspect of the assembly-line style packing and he even went the extra mile of buying tools to make some jobs easier. He is a part of the team that packs 100,000 meals each week, which are distributed to families all across the Twin Cities.
Carl says, ‘aside from the positive impacts of the physical part of the job, I derive satisfaction from utilizing my skills, abilities, and providence, to do the right thing, for the right people, at the right time. It’s where I need to be.’” — Submitted by Holly Daniels
We received two stories of people connected with the International Institute of Minnesota going above and beyond to help others:
“Scarlett Xiong, employment counselor at the International Institute of Minnesota, has become a one-woman hotline for new Americans experiencing unemployment during the COVID-19 crisis.
In addition to her existing duties supporting immigrants and refugees as they work toward their job goals, Scarlett is now spending hours each week walking new Americans through the complex unemployment benefits application process — a system that is especially confusing for English language learners. If that weren’t enough, a student who unexpectedly found orphaned newborn kittens in her basement asked Scarlett, a known animal lover, to rescue them. Unable to find a shelter that could accept them, Scarlett ended up taking the litter home with her and has been bottle feeding six kittens for more than a month. She is truly a #MNhelper.” — Submitted by Christie Vogt
“One of my clients, a 72-year-old new American from Cameroon, has been working tirelessly during the pandemic at an assisted living facility. She told me that many of the residents are lonely and sad, as they are unable to receive their usual visits from loved ones. She provides much needed support, conversation and good humor. The residents are so grateful to have her constant care and smile during such a scary time." — submitted by Emilia Kaczynski
“Recently the Vietnamese Community of Minnesota donated about 6,000 masks to Abbott Northwestern Hospital, Minneapolis, and Regions Hospital, St. Paul." — Submitted by Anonymous
“I'm the volunteer coordinator for Love Grows Here Wellness Center in partnership with the Compassion in Action team on the east side of St. Paul. I am also a proud volunteer with MPR. Love Grows Here is providing a hot meal and groceries as an extension of our normal Wednesday functions for the unsheltered, elders and anyone who needs at our center in the former school building at First Lutheran Church on Maria Avenue. I am not wanting acknowledgment for that but for the efforts of all my volunteers who make this happen every Wednesday in coordination with Second Harvest Heartland.” — Submitted by Chris Johnson
“Dr. Qiuyang (Yang) Zhang is one of the founders of Pandemic Responders. In January 2020, COVID-19 was taking hold of Wuhan China when two Chinese-born Americans, both active in public health, became extremely concerned. Robert Lu, PhD and Qiuyang Zhang, MD knew they had to respond, fast.
With the help of many volunteers, Robert and Qiuyang raised donations, sourced supplies, vetted items for quality, arranged for flights and delivered 400,000 pairs of medical gloves, 30,000 medical masks, 7,000 protective gowns, 4,000 pairs of medical goggles, and 254 oxygen generators to hospitals in need. As the virus spread quickly to other countries, Robert and Qiuyang founded the nonprofit Pandemic Responders to aid communities significantly impacted by COVID-19 such as Boston, New York, Los Angeles and Seattle.
When COVID-19 spread to Minnesota, Yang, a Rochester resident and concerned citizen, brought the Pandemic Responder PPE nonprofit supply channel to donate FDA-approved surgical masks and PPE to southeast Minnesota frontline workers and other essential workers. … Thousands of face masks have been donated. Greatly appreciated by the recipients to fill some of PPE shortage needs, this effort also highlights the Asian community's determination to support the frontline workers especially to provide a counterpoint to the increasingly frequent anti-Asian acts that have been popping up in Minnesota.” — Submitted by Al Lun
“Residents at Grand Arbor, an assisted living facility in Alexandria have sewed over 2,000 face masks over the past six weeks and donated them to front line workers in the area.
‘While the independent living residents have done a lot of the heavy lifting in this project, many residents in the building have played a part in the success of this initiative,’ said Laura Kremer, Lifestyle Enhancement Coordinator at the facility. ‘We’ve even gotten memory care residents involved by matching and pinning fabrics. People who can’t sew, measure fabric. People who can’t measure, cut elastic. People who can’t cut elastic fold and match fabric. Many people have had a role in making this successful and lots of love has gone into each mask.’
In a nod to the lessons the past can teach us about one’s duty for the greater good, and the power of unity and hard work, each box of masks sent out to the community has a picture of a masked Rosie the Riveter with the words, ‘The Grand Arbor Grannies care about you! We can do this!’” — Submitted by Jen Windsperger
“I would like to nominate Chloe Swanson and Sharon D'Arco. Both are Special Olympics swim coaches and when the season was shut down due to COVID-19, they have pivoted to keeping the swim team connected on Zoom.
Chloe leads Friday morning dry land training and on Saturdays, Chloe and Sharon have a social hour on Zoom. They hear from each athlete and play games like 20 Questions and Bingo. It helps the athletes stay fit and stay connected during an isolating time. It's not the same as being in the pool, but their dedication and creativity has helped the athletes feel like they are still part of a team. When I listen to my daughter and others laughing on the Zoom calls, it warms my heart. Thanks Chloe and Sharon!” — Submitted by Lisa Vala
Correction: Jensen if playing a sousaphone.
“Rochester Public School teachers and community partners are collaborating to collect art from our community to memorialize this unique time in history.
John Marshall art teacher Lisa Becker says, "During this time people have stories to tell, moments to document, and feelings to express. We are reaching out to the community of Rochester to unleash their potential as an artist, maker, and storyteller." Our hope is that this project grows so that we can include voices and representation from all ages, backgrounds, and industries.
Two avenues are available to share these feelings: postcards with a new prompt each week will act as the canvas for community members to express thoughts and feelings. …
Postcards can be picked up every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. at select lunch locations including Riverside Central Elementary School, Homestead Village and Mayo High School. Proper social distancing procedures will be practiced to ensure the safety of our community. There is also an option to submit online.
Following the collection of your postcard art, we create an installation from these artworks and artifacts to be displayed for our community. We are thrilled to be partnering with Threshold Arts at Castle Community. “This is a great opportunity to creatively capture the experiences of our community during the COVID-19 crisis, and we are thrilled to present a selection of the submissions in our Turret Gallery at the Castle,” Threshold Arts director Naura Anderson said.“ — Submitted by Alison Good
“I run a multitype library system in Central Minnesota (Central Minnesota Libraries Exchange). We provide help and training to all types of libraries. When the schools moved online, we immediately provided resources to our school libraries and to families.
Each day we share a page of activities, called ‘What Are We Doing Today?’ We collect ideas from all over the internet, for kids and parents. We do crafts, science projects, social studies, outdoor scavenger hunts, some daily physical activity and more.
All of this is available to anyone. Online education is hard, staying home is hard, but we can still have fun and do new things each day!” — Submitted by Mary Jordan
Defend Glendale & Public Housing Coalition is raising money for people disproportionately affected by the coronavirus: “COVID-19 has rearranged our world in ways we were not prepared for. Among those negatively impacted by and vulnerable to COVID-19 are public housing residents. Many are facing loss of income, child care issues and lack of essential supplies, much like you and your loved ones. We ask you to donate to public housing residents through our city wide mutual aid fund: Public Goods. In collaboration with Northside Neighborhood Council and Prospect Park Association, your donation will help us serve over 900 homes in Minneapolis and ensure that people receive the everyday essential items that they need to combat COVID-19. Let's work together and be there for one another in these difficult times." — Submitted by Samira Ali
“I’m a doula, overjoyed with the chance to continue supporting women even through this uncertain time. There are no guarantees in birth, and COVID-19 is no different. We must plan for all scenarios and work within the legal and ethical limitations to go beyond them emotionally. … Support looks different now, but support is still possible and I am one of many who are looking forward to lifted limitations.” — Submitted by Amy Lynn
Sarah O'Brien submitted stories for two volunteers at the Open Door food pantry in Eagan:
"When Kate Dupont was laid off from her full-time creative services director position due to the COVID-19 crisis, she sought out a way to be of help to others. She read about The Open Door on MPR News’ resources page, became a volunteer with us in mid-March and has volunteered almost every day since. Kate takes the shifts that aren’t filled to ensure she is helping where it is most needed. Of her new volunteer experience, Kate shares that, ‘There is a misnomer out there that there are givers and takers but I have found that everyone is a giver here at The Open Door.' Everyone — the clients, the employees, the volunteers — they are so grateful and gracious. Everyone is doing the best they can.’ Kate doesn’t wallow in what isn’t happening in her life due to the pandemic but instead focuses on what she can do. We at The Open Door are so thankful for Kate’s positive energy, can-do attitude and willingness to help out whenever and wherever she is needed. Thank you Kate!"
“Vicki French has been volunteering with The Open Door food pantry for two years. She leaned in and stepped up in a big way when the COVID-19 crisis hit. When Vicki's usual volunteer position as family advocate temporarily shifted to ensure social distancing she sought out helping The Open Door distribute lunches to kids. For the past six weeks Vicki has been volunteering with our Mobile Lunchbox program (typically a summer-only program) in response to school closures. Vicki volunteers three to four times each week helping The Open Door serve meals to low-income students directly in their neighborhoods. More than 5,000 meals have been distributed so far. Vicki is a ‘total boss,’ according to Operations Manager Adam Hoffman and we couldn't do our work without her. Thank you Vicki!”
“My wife [Morgan] has sewn hundreds of masks and set them out for neighbors and passers by who need them. The community continues to thank her, and I think that is heartening.” — Submitted by Dustin Lenhoff
“I'd like to give a shout out to Krista Gibson, my colleague and the program director of Our Saviour's Housing. Since the onset of COVID-19, Krista has been a ceaseless advocate for the vulnerable guests in our emergency shelter, front-line staff who put themselves at risk each day and the entire community of people experiencing homelessness.
In addition to making our shelter as safe as possible, Krista began advocating to move all individuals in shelters into safer single dwelling units, such as hotels. Outside her working hours, she called representatives at every level of government to advocate for this. She also collaborated with St. Stephen's Human Services to find funding and make it happen.
As of May 1, all of the guests from our shelters have been relocated to an area hotel where they can safely isolate. In a major achievement, we were able to do this before there was a single known case of COVID-19 in our shelter. Even after this success, Krista immediately thought about the next critical need: the growing encampments of homeless people.
Now she is working with St. Stephen's and other organizations to plan a managed encampment that will provide improved safety and support for the rapidly growing homeless population. Krista's dedication and genuine care for people without a home goes far beyond her job description and is making our entire community safer, especially those who are most vulnerable.” — Submitted by Amanda Steepleton
“My story is about my daughter Reece Wallaker. She is an medical assistant at a clinic and was featured on the local news for testing for the coronavirus, which she still does on the weekends to help because she is furloughed every other week. She was contacted by someone and now she is in a commercial and will begin nursing school in the fall! She has always wanted to be one, but the bar was set high and due to limited financial aide I am hopeful she will receive the financial help, as she will be a great nurse!” — Submitted by Dawn Hyland
“My aunt Julie Stellar is simply amazing! She owns Steller Handcrafted Goods which repurposes old wool sweaters and turns them into mittens and coats. When the pandemic started she, along with her team, have shifted gears and are now including masks in their production. She holds a porch pick up between 12:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. every Wednesday and Saturday at her home in Minneapolis. She definitely should be recognized for all her hard work.” — Submitted by Reece
Wendy June, 57, has run Mankato Pet Cremation since summer 2018. It’s mostly a one-woman operation, with veterinarian Karen Exline of Le Sueur helping with in-home euthanasia.
She said the people coming to her are struggling even more than usual.
“I can see their grief. The grief is so much compounded right now,” June said. “They look more overwhelmed to me, to be honest. They're just shaking their heads. They look numb, almost like they can't even process all those things that are going on in their lives right now.” Read her story here.
“Josh Drummond is a residential counselor at Paragon Residential Treatment in Maple Grove, who has been such a champion at showing up in such kind and meaningful ways for the kids we work with. One really neat thing I've seen is that he has been working really hard, even on his days off, to help get a garden going for the kids. He even made a really nice handmade wooden sign for it. He is an incredibly kind guy who is really committed to helping kids who are having a hard time, and making this weird time more human and life-giving.” — Submitted by Anna Bohlinger
“I asked my friend and neighbor, Dana Faber, to make me a few scrub caps for me and my nurses to wear while working in an ICU with COVID patients. We needed something to cover our hair so we didn't have to "fuss" with it while putting on and taking off our PPE. I was only wanting a few, but after my colleagues saw mine, they asked for one too. Dana answered the call and made around 50 and counting for my nurses to protect our heads. She is a talented quilting artist and donated her skills, time, and talent to help local nurses.” — Submitted by Kristin Clifford
“Simpson Housing Services has been working tirelessly to support the homeless community, and their advocates in ALL of their programs have been working just as hard (if not harder) to support their participants. Their admin staff has still been churning away to support the programs and all of the staff. The organization as a whole has been responsive and supportive to staff during this challenge. I think they are one of Minneapolis' unsung heroes when it comes to working with housing and homelessness services.” — Anonymous
After seeing this post, Simpson Housing Services had this to add:
“ …Our dedicated staff is reaching out to the people we serve in creative ways — through online and phone check-ins, curbside and onsite food shelves, delivery of supplies to participants' doorsteps, story time with children over the phone, and live online cooking classes with youth participants — and so much more.
We appreciate the support of the community as we work together to end homelessness, one individual and one family at time.” — Submitted by Elisabeth Loeffler, Simpson Housing Services
“In the beginning of the transition to distance learning at Saint Paul Public Schools, our son's pre-K teacher went above and beyond, sharing weekly resources for our first grader (her student the year before). Anni Wente at Crossroads Montessori Elementary School is amazing in her care for our kids, going above and beyond to support my kids and her students. She even mailed a handmade postcard of encouragement!” — Submitted by Rebecca Immich Sullivan
On a normal day, the staff at Women’s Advocates of St. Paul have a tough job. While restrictions on in-person contact make abuse survivor advocacy more difficult, Lauren Rimestad, director of outreach for the nonprofit, her coworkers and Women’s Advocacy volunteers are moving forward. And Rimestad said it has been heartening to see how the community has reacted to people being isolated in their homes.
“It's been eye opening to see how the community has reacted to this crisis,” she said. “And I wonder [if] there isn't a subconscious desire to connect and provide safe resources to people who are experiencing that when it's paired with violence and their intimate partner relationships.” Read the story here.
“Habiba Sheikh is my colleague at the English Learning Center, a school for adults who are learning English. Since our school shut down in March, she's been working hard to get necessary learning materials to students, including delivering them personally to the students who are her neighbors. She's also working hard to help her daughter, who's in second grade and figuring out distance learning from home. When she's not helping our students or working with her daughter, she regularly calls to check in on our eldest and most experienced volunteer teacher, an 89-year-old dynamo named Judy. I see Habiba using all of her waking hours to help others, and I'm grateful for her commitment to others- and the inspiration!” — Submitted by Jenne
“We are so grateful to all the volunteers across the country who have spent countless hours sewing more than 1,000 protective fabric masks for our clinicians, vulnerable clients, and direct support professionals. These selfless individuals are doing more than their part to save lives. Thank you!” — Submitted by Claire Sandahl, Fraser
“#HooverPAWS has a strong and amazing community. The dedication from George Vasil, principal of Hoover Elementary, has brought inspiration, shown dedication to staff and families, and fun into the mix through silly TikToks, creating a Book Character Challenge, and just being himself through distant learning while also taking on the challenge of learning how to do a front tuck on the trampoline with his daughter as the coach! Super proud to be a teacher at #HooverPAWS under Mr. Vasil’s strong and admirable leadership skills!” — Submitted by Mrs. M
“Rick Rietow has been printing ear savers on his 3D printers for hospital works, first responders, Department of Corrections, as well as just friends a families around the nation. He has sent out over 1,000 so far and continues to print and share them at no cost.” — Submitted by Kelly Rietow
“Jennifer Becker, of NAMI Southeast Minnesota, has been especially helpful to me during this stressful time. I have been a long-time volunteer for NAMI, so I have been impressed by the quality of the staff members at NAMI for years: their knowledge, advocacy and compassion. But Jenn has been so helpful to me recently when my own depression and grief have interacted with living alone during the ‘shelter in place’ order. She has called once or twice a week to check in on me, to talk at length about whatever is going on, to offer assistance if I needed help getting anything — in essence, just ‘walked beside me.’ As an essential worker myself to quarantined developmentally disabled adults, this has such a difference!” — Submitted by Tammy J. Rider
“Scott Andrews and Mark Oppitz are responsible for the management and daily operations of the food shelf at Neighbors, Inc. They have gone above and beyond during this time of crisis to ensure that our community is still receiving healthy and nutritious food. And they do it all with a smile on their face and extra patience as they work through countless changes and disruptions to their normal routines. They rarely take days off and have even taken on additional tasks to help make the food shelf more efficient than before — all while serving an increased number of guests. They are truly remarkable!” — Submitted by Heidi Satre
”My daughter and a few of her classmates volunteer each Saturday to serve breakfast at Dorothy Day.” — Jennifer Torinus
Local company Nerdery is providing free business consulting to small businesses during this time.
”Starting March 15, Matt Hoppe began volunteering in the food shelf at The Aliveness Project. He has come in every day to fill pre-packed grocery bags, free for those living with HIV. When the COVID-19 outbreak began Matt knew it would have a huge impact on the HIV community. Living with HIV himself he felt a call to action to help his community. He knew Aliveness was continuing to help those in need and wanted to get in the fight. Over the past month Matt has packed hundreds of bags of groceries. He has become a leader at Aliveness and many people say ‘we couldn’t do this without him.’” — Submitted by Dylan Boyer
“In the small town north of St. Paul, sits a woman, who rarely leaves her sewing machine in the confines of her home. This guardian angel's name is Donna Orme, of North Branch. A crafted sewer, she immediately hit the ‘sewing’ trend with her machine to protect her family, her small neighborhood and many others she has never met. She has sent masks across the nation for health care workers, facility workers, small companies, who are seeking ways to not only keep others safe, but also provide a sense of love, kindness, and giving at this time in our nation.
Words are often difficult to find to explain this woman, whose endless giving is so appreciated by anyone who has met her or known her. Her request, no payment, pay it forward. Recently she provided masks to Engineered Supply of Bayport. Her request was simply, pay it forward. Her suggestion, Bayport Fire Department. And so they did and confirmed this is a letter giving them a $100 donation. Thank you Donna for being one of the leaders to pay it forward, for being a gentle soul, a giver, and a person we can all learn from. Sincerely, a friend who adores you and has been a recipient of your giving and love.” — Submitted by Anonymous
”Alaina is an employee at Tradition Capital Bank. A few weeks ago, Tradition began promoting the Stay at Home Volunteer Kit to their employees. The kits, a special COVID-19 response initiative by the global nonprofit MATTER, allows individuals or families to pack healthy snack packs in the safety of their homes and donate them to community organizations of their choice. Alaina took a kit home and assembled 50 snack packs with her daughters.
With every snack pack, they wrote a special note of encouragement to the person that would receive it. In looking for where to donate them, Alaina learned to her surprise that there were kids in her daughters’ school that battle hunger on a daily basis, a battle that has only intensified with the pandemic. Upon delivering her box of snack packs to the school, Alaina knew she couldn’t stop there. Bringing home another kit, she and her daughters packed 50 more for their school, each one with a handwritten note of encouragement.
Because of Alaina’s compassion and generosity, children in her neighborhood who are dealing with food insecurity now have access to a nutritious snack to get them through their day. And just as importantly, with every bag they open they’re reminded they matter and that someone is thinking of them during these uncertain times.” — Submitted by Sue Anderson, MATTER
“Penny Turgeon Kimble of Warroad, Minn. and the organizer of the Roseau County Mask Crusaders. She was the first to come up with this idea of how to help others. Penny organized first her quilters' club and then it just exploded. They don’t even know how many masks they’ve made. All they can say is that it is well over 12,000. They don't know how many people in the county are working on this. Some sew, some cut out and make kits, some buy and donate material and elastic, some run delivery routes. Their first focus was on health care providers and medical facilities in Roseau County. Given the love and indebtedness our local area has for our veterans, they made the decision to answer the request for help and support for Veteran's Homes outside of our county when the requests came in. To date, they have supplied the VA Hospitals in Rochester and Fargo and convalescent homes in the metro area — and the calls keep coming in. That said, their primary focus has been Roseau County.
… They have charged nothing for the masks! They were one of the first and are now coaching other neighboring counties with patterns and tips to recreate their success across Northern Minnesota. We are so proud of this group! They are definitely ‘doing what Minnesotans do!’" — Submitted by Cyndy Renfrow
Submissions may be edited for length or clarity.
Tell us about your #MNhelper here!
Before you go...
MPR News is dedicated to bringing you clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives when we need it most. We rely on your help to do this. Your donation has the power to keep MPR News strong and accessible to all during this crisis and beyond.