Local heroes of the pandemic: looking back at those who stepped forward to make a difference

Coronavirus

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — This has been a difficult year. There is no doubt about that.

2020 was welcomed by many with open arms as the beginning of a new decade full of positivity and potential.

But, it was not long after the new year when China reported its first death from a new type of coronavirus — COVID-19.

Locally, the fear of that virus developing in the area wasn’t widespread at the time. In fact, many did not know the true threat that the virus posed — or knew much about the virus at all.

By the time that the first person in the United States died from COVID-19 in Washington state, the fear of catching the virus began to spread.

Then, about two weeks later, the first Virginia death from COVID-19 complications was confirmed in the Peninsula Health District. And then COVID-19 spread across the state.

But amidst the tragic losses of family members and friends from the virus — people stood up this year to help make a difference in their communities when they were needed most.

Here are some of the notable people who were courageous, generous, loving and caring in the face of adversity that a global pandemic.

And their efforts are worth highlighting again.

Those who provided care

It would not be a correct tribute without first acknowledging the efforts of the frontline healthcare workers throughout the entire pandemic.

From saving countless lives to risking their own to defeat a complicated virus, healthcare workers inspired other citizens to step up to the plate and help out in their own communities.

Those who donated

At the beginning of the pandemic, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was a new term to many.

Hospitals and nursing homes quickly began to run low on the product at places where it is critical to have that protection.

Many people noticed the shortage and purchased PPE to donate.

Mimi Nguyen was one of those who spent a large amount of their own income to help buy products for frontline healthcare workers.

She purchased 4,000 medical-grade masks, 15,000 nitrile exam gloves, over 1,000 bottles of hand sanitizer, 12 gallons of 70% isopropyl alcohol, and boxes of shoe covers to donate to Bon Secours St. Francis Medical Center in March.

“I have a heart. Big heart. I couldn’t do anything so I tried to reach out [to] friends, family, whoever I know — I can get as much as I can,” said Nguyen.

But purchasing masks wasn’t the only option for people, especially with prices being out of many people’s budgets.

JoAnn Fabrics created a how-to video on sewing masks, and offered DIY mask kits for people to tap into their creative sides and contribute to hospitals with handmade masks.

Many people jumped on board to learn mask sewing — even going virtual to fit in with the ‘new normal.’

RVA masks 4 health banded together seamstresses, hobbyists and volunteers in Central Virginia to make various styles and functions of face masks

And one Richmond mom put her two teenage boys to work and taught them how to sew and make masks to fight the growing shortage of masks in healthcare facilities.

“My sons have been fussing and fighting nonstop since the stay at home order,” Darshae Dabney said in April. “As a means of addressing that and punishing them, but also adding a constructive layer to it. We usually make them work on a project together.”

Davian Dabney using a sewing machine to make masks for healthcare workers

Bryant & Stratton College nursing coordinators heard about the need for ventilators at local area hospitals and decided to lend their own to John Randolph Medical Center.

“It’s past the time for just ‘thank you’s.’ Donuts and coffee aren’t good enough anymore. We have to put more action in, and this is the least we can do to let them know that we truly appreciate them,” Michele Richardson said back in March.

Donations could also be witnessed in those sacrificing their own salaries to pay their employees during the pandemic.

Buskey Cider Founder and CEO Will Correll and his wife Elle Correll both gave up their salaries in March to keep their workers employed for as long as possible.

Those who offered meals

Virginia restaurants and other ‘non-essential’ businesses had to close their doors in March when Governor Ralph Northam declared the stay-at-home order.

However, the grills and fryers were turned back on as restaurants stepped up to feed those on the front lines of the pandemic — for free.

A Golden Corral in Chesterfield served up kindness in addition to mac and cheese in March by giving out free hot lunches to first responders who came by in uniform to express their appreciation.

“They’re putting their life on the line. Every day. Every day they’re putting the life on the line,” Golden Corral manager Thomas Jones said. “Regardless of the situation, if it’s a fire, if it’s an emergency, they out there.”

“This is our way of saying we appreciate you, we see you, we know what you’re doing out there,” said Thomas Jones.

Accessing food throughout the pandemic had become a major issue to many families — and is still a problem even to this day.

Hatch Kitchen RVA started ‘Hatch Helps,’ a donation-based program where volunteers prepare hundreds of meals and food is then donated to those in need by pairing with local non-profits and churches, to assist overwhelmed food banks.

Food banks like Chesterfield Food Bank — which has fed anywhere from 8,000 to 12,000 people a month and is up triple the amount they normally fed before COVID-19.

“The life at the food bank here, we think it has changed forever,” CEO Kim Hill said. “Hunger should not exist in our country. We are one of the richest countries in the world, we need to be able to take care of our own people.”

Several churches also made it a point to help out those in need.

Every Saturday in August, Cedar Street Baptist Church of God distributed 1,300 boxes of fruit, vegetables, grain, protein and other perishable goods.

A Richmond area church is doing its part to make sure no one goes hungry during the coronavirus pandemic.

Those who created

Inspiration to get through a tough time can come from a variety of places. Several Richmond artists used their own creations to help give people a mental boost to keep pushing forward despite a year that knocked many down.

Maria Rubio drew a positive message on a sidewalk by her house, but never expected it to reach as many people as it did. Combining a box of chalk with a little imagination — Rubio became a sidewalk artist in March.

The message read, “It’s gonna be okay, RVA.”

Inspiration coming in ways as simple as a box of chalk and a sidewalk.

“We need all the positivity we can get,” Rubio said. “Kindness inspires kindness. Now I’m just going around Richmond trying to paint all the streets.”

On the steps of the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, you’ll find a list of affirmations – one reads: “Together we can listen to and uplift our neighbors.” That’s the idea behind the new project entitled “All in Together VA.”  

Two local artists, Hamilton Glass and Matt Lively, came up with the idea during the pandemic when they felt the community was losing a sense of connection.

“All in Together VA.”
On the steps of the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, you’ll find a list of affirmations – one reads: “Together we can listen to and uplift our neighbors.” That’s the idea behind the new project entitled “All in Together VA.”

Those who adapted

COVID-19 forced many Virginians to get used to Zoom calls for a while, and quite a few business had to adapt to some sort of virtual medium to stay afloat.

Tiny Textures, a hair salon specializing in naturally textured hair, gave hair care and styling lessons on Facebook live to help parents take care of their daughter’s hair during the coronavirus outbreak.

Regina Holden, the owner of the salon, used the platform to bring parents closer together with their children since the pandemic temporarily shut down salons.

Rehabilitation services are important to recovery while battling addiction — and Williamsville Wellness Center in Hanover went virtual to combat the isolation challenges caused by the pandemic in April.

The program acted as an online help system that offered learning modules and teletherapy through secured Webex video calls.

“We’re in the business to help people,” said Bob Cabiniss, the founder of the facility. “That’s just the way it is. We are in business to help people.”

The pandemic also caused many weddings to be postponed, causing panic for some couples who had their big day booked ahead of 2020.

Reverend Bil Malbon saw how couples were being affected by the cancelations and wanted to create a way to hold a cheaper alternative to their wedding. So he created the “Tiny Chapel.”

Beginning at only $300 for his service, the ordained minister from Ashland weds people in a tiny chapel attached to his pickup truck.

The Tiny Chapel, attached to the back of Malbon’s pickup truck.

What the future holds

The selfless efforts and positivity from Virginians during the pandemic have been a light to be appreciated for the years to come. And this is only a fraction of the number of good deeds people have done to help out their neighbors.

But the pandemic is not over.

There are still lives to be saved, mouths to be fed, and people to inspire.

The kindness of others has the power to unite communities closer, despite the physical distance in separation.

And at the end of the day — rest assured that “it’s gonna be okay, RVA.”

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