We Can Each Make a Difference

By Sandra Dempsey Post

Somewhere along the way we’ve learned, or at least been told, that change is a significant part of life, and guarantees are never included. Pessimism is not the answer, but neither is dismay when unexpected and unwelcome challenges change our direction. Whatever our usual reaction to disappointment when plans go awry, we should be much wiser now after weeks of unstable conditions. Hopefully we’ve also become aware of good thoughtful people as they strive to minimize trauma and assist others in need.

Those with generous hearts rarely want recognition. They prefer to quietly help make a difference without expecting anything in return. So during this continued time of social distancing, isolation, rescheduling plans and appointments, continual concern about health and monetary well being, we concentrate on the positives, recognize and try to ease the negatives, and appreciate opportunities.

As challenges continue, we hope the following stories of people’s goodness and generosity serve to inspire us to extend a helping hand. Opportunities are endless. Kindness always circles back, looking different perhaps from when it was initially shared, but always enriching both sender and recipient.

Among the congregation at First Christian Church, 6400 N. University in Peoria, are people independently involved in helping others throughout the community, and those working together in small groups. Reverend Karen Merrick, Pastor, explains, “We’re always listening to know how best to help. Sometimes it’s hands on help that’s needed and we can do that, and sometimes it’s financial assistance.”  Currently there’s a volunteer group gathering on Sunday afternoons to prepare box lunches that are distributed on Mondays to those needing food. “We try to be aware of community needs and when we hear about them, we try to help.”

Choosing to stay home on a particular day is one thing; not being able to leave is quite another. The latter is many people’s reality since the COVID-19 pandemic became reality. Some folks have compromised immune systems and cannot risk being exposed to the virus; some living in nursing homes or assisted living facilities are not allowed to leave their room(s); some live alone in their own homes spending countless hours by themselves; and multiple health and mobility issues make it necessary for others to stay inside. Time weighs heavily, but thanks to people like Peoria resident Marla, her days include phone calls or texts to keep in touch and lessen others’ loneliness. She checks on neighbors, and for her own enjoyment, takes walks and dances by herself. “I miss the human contact,” she says, and also her new grandchild. “We FaceTime and that does help, ” she gratefully explains.

From coast to coast millions of graduates, from preschool to PhD achievers, will not have graduation ceremonies. Much concerned effort is being extended to graduates so they can still celebrate their accomplishments even if not in the traditional way. Jennifer Plank, a Caterpillar employee currently working from home, also works to help Dunlap High School graduates through her photography. “I’m so happy to be able to do this,” she says enthusiastically. Students schedule appointments with her and she takes four or five pictures of them, emailing the final copies. There is no charge for the photos. “We follow the rules and we’re distancing, and this is all done outside,” she explains. One student wanted a photo that included Mom and Mom wore a mask. “The response has been phenomenal,” says Jennifer, pleased for the opportunity to capture such special times in students’ lives, and gift them with a tangible way to always remember their High School Graduation.

People who enjoy sewing, and many others who realize the need for face masks, have spent countless hours creating masks of various colors, sizes, and sometimes even masks that silently announce a person’s favorite sports team. Even for those whose hobby is sewing, it can become more labor than fun when making large quantities, but dedicated seamstresses like Gayle and Ann do it well and with noble intentions. They give masks to family and friends and to others in need, knowing their efforts may be saving lives.

The Youth for Christ organization, through donations received from churches, businesses and individuals, are gifting all 203 graduating seniors at Limestone Community High School with gift bags containing candy and a gift card. Personnel at Limestone will deliver the gifts, explains Caiti Svymbersky. Schools throughout the community, with the help of others, are making extra efforts to give graduating students a memorable send-off.

With a staff of three and many generous donors willing to help, Jolt Harm Reduction a non-profit organization located at 1411 NE Adams in Peoria, continues receiving masks, socks, bottled water, personal hygiene items, travel size shampoo and soap to help the population they serve. Program Director, Chris Schaffner, explains, “Our population is very vulnerable. Masks are given to people so they can ride the bus, and we have continual need for additional masks. We also serve 50 to 100 sack lunches every day. Ours is a comprehensive harm reduction program, and we are very grateful for the remarkable community response. We’re also able to help some elderly and shut-ins and children. We so appreciate the compassion and kindness shown to the people we serve and we ask that it continue, to allow us to provide help with their very basic needs.”

Andy Diaz, Interim CEO and Board Member at Friendship House at 800 NE Madison Ave in Peoria, is grateful for all the donations that have arrived even though currently the agency is open only for the Food Pantry on Mondays from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. “We are receiving donations from people who are new at giving, and some donate anonymously. It seems as though during this time people want to feel part of something, to be relevant. We can continue to make an impact even during our current shut down. People are served through our pantry and we appreciate the volunteers helping with that. And we are making plans for our summer programs. We are grateful for the generous support.”

“One week at a time is how I’m doing this,” writes one cherished friend in a hand-written note. People are responding with cards, notes, and offers to pick up items or run errands. Food pantries, churches, schools, neighborhood groups and others offer help without compromising safety issues. Restaurants donate food to the needy, serve the community and take care of financial obligations. Yes, we’re in this together, but our circumstances and resources are not identical. We’re called to respect each others’ differences. Offering suggestions is helpful; harshly telling others they’re wrong is hurtful.

As challenges continue, it’s easy to think, “How good when we go back to how it was.”   That likely won’t happen. Yes, the masks will disappear and we’ll once again see people’s smiles and encouraging expressions. We’ve learned now through seeing more families outside taking walks together or riding bikes; hearts decorating windows of homes and businesses; stories of the courageous and caring; and our own commitments of helping others, that we can’t turn back time. But we can adapt, share our knowledge and resources, and when in doubt how to respond, let compassion and gratitude help show us the way.

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