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Thursday, March 26, 2020

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Mister Rogers shaped countless childhoods with his lessons about kindness, self-worth, and friendship. It seems that during every trying time, Americans collectively rediscover one of his most comforting nuggets of wisdom. Recalling advice from his youth, he once shared, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

If there was ever a time for us to keep these words in mind, it’s now. 


With entire states on lockdown, thousands of deaths worldwide, and no clear end to this global pandemic in sight, it’s certainly easier to lose hope than it is to search for reasons to stay optimistic. But true to Mister Rogers’ word, even now, there are people who are helping. 

From Albuquerque to Ireland, people everywhere are springing into action to support the most vulnerable members of their communities. In Seattle, volunteers are distributing school lunches to students from low-income families who might otherwise go hungry. In Sydney, residents are leaving notes in their neighbors’ mailboxes, offering to drive them to the supermarket if they’re unable to do so by themselves.

Even in New York City, the “epicenter” of the pandemic by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s count, news outlets are informing people on how they can help out their elderly neighbors, from delivering groceries to providing medication and mental health support over the phone. 

Although many American workers have seen their work hours reduced or have lost their jobs entirely, support systems are emerging there, too. The United States Bartenders Guild, which operates a financial support program for bartenders in need, has recently received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from whiskey brand Jameson, billionaire Mark Cuban, and others.

They’ll soon begin awarding grants to bartenders who need help making ends meet. In Pittsburgh, supermarket chain Giant Eagle is hiring restaurant and sports venue workers who’ve been affected by coronavirus closures. And plenty of organizations are looking to fill tens of thousands of positions with workers who’ve been displaced due to the pandemic, including Dollar Tree, Amazon and Walmart, which is also offering cash bonuses to hourly workers. 

While food and medical supply shortages dominate the news, donations are still pouring in all over the country. The Pittsburgh Pirates conducted a drive-up food drive to benefit the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and donated $50,000 to the organization. Maine-based Hannaford Supermarkets announced its intent to donate $250,000 to food banks across the northeast. San Jose residents with supplies to spare have brought masks, hand sanitizer, and wipes to the Valley Medical Center Foundation. One contributor, Kenny Tran, said, “As individuals, we should contribute to make our country safe.”

But it’s more than just making our country — and our world — safe. It’s about bringing us joy during this time of crisis. And there’s no shortage of that, either. 

The World Health Organization and Global Citizen have collaborated to produce the #TogetherAtHome concert series, which brings live performances from some of the world’s most popular musicians to the masses, free of charge. Dozens of other musicians have been livestreaming concerts, too, taking song requests and answering fan questions. Quarantined Italians have gone viral for singing everything from patriotic anthems to the Macarena.

In Chicago, residents belted out Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” and in Dallas, they sang Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me.” Though the words are different, the messages are the same: solidarity, support, and encouragement. 

Once pandemic hysteria subsides, it’s up to all of us to remember how we treated each other in our time of need. We shouldn’t think of this chapter in our collective history as a time of fear, of obedience to orders from above, or of selfishness. We should remember the individuals who identified unmet needs and pitched in however they could. We should remember these days for the heroes and helpers who revealed themselves. We should remember those who chose to lend a hand instead of pointing fingers. 

Mister Rogers had no shortage of timely quotes, and we’d do well to commit another one to memory. He once said, “What really matters is helping others win, too, even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then.” In times as frightening and unpredictable as these, it’s certainly easy to be selfish. It’s easy to fixate on your own needs and priorities while others suffer. But ultimately, people want to be good to each other. Thankfully, reassuringly, there are still countless people who are choosing to slow down and help others win. 

• Fiona Harrigan is a contributor for Young Voices and a political writer based in Tucson, Arizona. 


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