Late last month, firefighters from Reece City — a small town on the outskirts of Gadsden — started knocking on every door in town, and handing those who answered a free meal.
Every house got a good meal, purchased from one of Reece City’s restaurants, and the firefighters got a chance to ask everyone how they were doing and see if anyone needed help. Then, a few days later, everyone in town found out that they were getting a $28.20 break on their water bill — that’s the base rate for water service, which meant several town residents received a bill for zero dollars.
The man behind the ideas for the food giveaway and water breaks, according to the Gadsden Times, which first reported the story, was Mayor Phil Colegrove. He was frustrated with the bickering in Congress over legislation to aid people dealing with COVID-19, and he was worried about his constituents, many of which were recently laid off from the Goodyear plant in nearby Gadsden.
“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” Colegrove told the Times.
That seems to be the prevailing thought behind a whole bunch of recent actions.
In neighborhoods all around Alabama, there are teddy bears in windows and chalk drawings on driveways offering messages of hope.
Those with a little spare time and some know-how are sewing face masks for nurses and healthcare workers, and for their friends and family members. My wife’s friend made three for us. Mine has Spiderman on it. My daughter’s has the “Toy Story” characters.
Various groups have delivered more than 10,000 masks to healthcare workers around Alabama.
People are calling local restaurants and paying to have meals delivered to hospitals for the workers. Anonymously.
In Muscle Shoals, “Operation Drumstick” is providing meals to out-of-work musicians.
All across Alabama, locally-owned restaurants are partnering with local farmers to offer fresh produce, and in some cases, are even letting the farmers set up and sell their products in the restaurants’ parking lots. The same thing is happening in north Florida.
In several towns across the state, firefighters and sheriff’s deputies are delivering meals to elderly shut-ins.
In some towns, people have set up impromptu delivery services for the elderly and those more vulnerable to COVID-19.
All across the state, anonymous food deliveries are showing up at hospitals and fire stations and police departments and sheriff’s offices.
Several nurses from Alabama have dropped everything and traveled to New York to help with the country’s most severe — and most heartbreaking — outbreak of coronavirus. Others have traveled to the hardest hit areas of Alabama to lend a hand.
Local news stations in the state have reported on at least five drive-by birthday parties for kids whose normal parties were cancelled because of the outbreak. And there was a 50-car parade in Foley for the 100th birthday of Charlene Anderson.
I say all of this because it seems like maybe we all could use a reminder of just how good most people really are. Despite our differences and our preferences, at the end of the day, given the opportunity, most folks in this state — and around the country — will help each other.
Doesn’t matter about your race. Doesn’t matter where you live. Doesn’t matter which god you worship. Doesn’t matter how you vote.
And it hasn’t been just individuals, either.
We can be cynics and look for the self-serving reasons behind them, but there are a whole bunch of major companies out there that have voluntarily gone above and beyond to help their customers. From cell phone carriers to car manufacturers to banks, it seems every company out there has a payment forgiveness program and a variety of other options to make life a tad less stressful during this time.
I don’t know of a single public service company — gas, water, electricity — in this state that isn’t guaranteeing they won’t turn off service for late payments, and then work with customers in the future on payment plans that are manageable.
The state’s car manufacturers, including Hyundai, Toyota/Mazda and Honda, all guaranteed the pay for workers during recent work-stoppages.
The Poarch Creek Indians and other casino owners in the state have guaranteed the pay of all salaried workers, even as the casinos sit empty and idle.
Ashley Home Stores have pledged to provide 10,000 meals, purchased from local restaurants, and given to local community organizations.
Even the politicians got something done, and a lot of it was directed at people who rarely get noticed in legislation — the working poor.
The acts of selflessness and sacrifice — and I’m certain I have failed to mention many, many more — have been, if you actually stop and seek them out, overwhelming and reassuring. They bring hope and smiles in a time when both are in short supply. And they run counter to the notion that Americans are either selfish or indifferent to the suffering of their fellow man.
Maybe no example better illustrates that than GianMarco’s Restaurant in Birmingham. Long considered one of the best restaurants in the state, GianMarco’s popularity hasn’t made it immune to the struggles of coronavirus.
It has bills like all the other restaurants. It has staff to pay. And a couple of weeks ago, like with every other restaurant out there, the flow of cash basically stopped.
And yet, earlier this week, GianMarco’s still managed to serve 150 of Birmingham’s homeless community.
Just for a moment, sit and think about that — the kindness, the compassion, the sacrifice. Just to give another struggling human a few minutes of peace and a decent meal.
It is very easy right now to get down, to allow the awfulness of this pandemic to overtake you, and to feel trapped by one terrible story after another.
But it’s worth remembering two things: 1. This will end and life will return to normal at some point, and 2. There are a whole lot of good people out there who make life a little brighter and a little better, even in the worst of times.