The coronavirus pandemic has inspired a grassroots movement that is connecting people who need help with donors who can offer financial assistance.
So far, contributors have passed $13 million through more than 100,000 matches.
Shelly Tygielski came up with the idea that she named Pandemic of Love. The mindfulness teacher in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was looking for simple ways people in her community could take care of each other.
“As the pandemic started, I started to see the fear bubble up on my social media feeds and from friends,” Tygielski told CNN. “I wanted to turn from this environment of fear to an opportunity for us to create connection, community and strengthen the bonds of love between us.”
A small effort goes global
Tygielski initially put her idea into action as a way for her local meditation group to get involved.
“I posted the original video and the two links to signup forms on my social media feeds on March 14 and woke up the next morning and there were already 400 requests to get help and 500 to give help,” Tygielski said.
Her posts and links were then shared by celebrities like Debra Messing, Chelsea Handler and Kristin Bell, and the hashtag #PandemicofLove helped spread the word.
Tygielski started receiving thousands of forms from people across the country, and there was an outpouring of volunteers who wanted to help build the organization.
“Within the first 24 hours I received an email offering to start a Pandemic of Love community for San Francisco, and within two to three days I got messages to create communities in Portugal and Barcelona,” Tygielski said. “And now I get at least 20 emails a day from folks who want to create micro-communities from all over the world.”
Tygielski shares her Pandemic of Love organization model with volunteers in other cities. These volunteers build teams to match applicants in their community and reach out to other communities when they need assistance.
“We start by going close and then go further out to find the help,” Tygielski explained. “It is about matching the need and filling the need, and the more communities we have the more of these connections we can make.”
From help to helping
Suzi Israel in Asheville, North Carolina, filled out a form to get help for her adult son Jacob. He lives in Los Angeles and needed to move temporarily because of Covid-19 cases in his building.
“My son, when he found out I did this, he was very skeptical of people and untrusting,” Israel told CNN. “So I told my son to have some faith, and within a day or so he was connected with a donor who gave him some financial support.”
Her son saw further proof of goodwill when his mom started volunteering with Pandemic of Love and helped create the volunteer team for the Asheville community.
“He now sees how this organization, that is only a few months old, came through for him and others,” Israel said. “There are a lot like him who have doubts, and we have to convince them to apply. I want everyone to know that there are people out there putting their hands out to help you, and you have to just reach out.”
Besides encouraging local donors and recipients to apply, a volunteer team for each community vets each application and works to find a match.
“For me, it is the best when you can convince someone to have the courage to have faith in their community and then make a match so they can see their community come though.”
Tygielski describes Pandemic of Love as a mutual aid organization designed to be a bridge for people to connect.
“It is pairing up two individuals who are going to initially have a financial transaction, but also connect with one another, to be seen and heard and loved,” Tygielski said.
That connection made a difference for Maurico Martinez, a Broadway performer in New York City. He filled out the form to get help and received a text from an unknown number from California.
“I got a text message from a lady named Simone in San Francisco, and she was willing to help me out, and ‘what did I need, groceries, gasoline?’ and could she send me some money?” Martinez told CNN. “And I waited a bit because I didn’t know how to respond.”
At first, Martinez wondered if it was a scam. But it soon became clear Simone’s support was very real, both tangibly and emotionally.
“She sent me a couple hundred dollars and I was so thankful and I wanted to pay her back. She said, ‘No, this was Pandemic of Love,’ and so then we started talking,” Martinez recalled. “It is not just the money. It is the companionship and especially now with everyone isolating, out of nowhere came this wonderful soul and we started becoming friends, exchanging pictures of our families, our dogs, and it was wonderful.”
Outlasting the pandemic
Tygielski hopes Pandemic of Love continues to grow. She is working to make it an established method of charitable giving even after the coronavirus is gone.
“On a personal level, it shows me that a person can make a difference. When you aggregate this act of kindness, you know viruses can be scary things, but the word ‘viral’ does not have to be negative. A lot of positive things can go viral like hope and faith and love. And love can be the cure.”