“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." - Fred Rogers
The news is more or less full of scary things this week – the rate of infection and death from COVID-19 is climbing daily, necessary medical equipment is in short supply, unemployment filings hit record-breaking numbers for the second week in a row, more than half of all Main Street businesses are concerned they will never re-open again – and though there will be an end to all of this someday, no one knows when it will be.
During what is widely forecast to be an economic catastrophe equivalent to the Great Recession of 2008 or even possibly the Great Depression of the 1930s, it is easy to feel scared, small and deeply uncertain right now.
In the face of all that, we at PYMNTS decided to do what we think everyone should do during times like these: Listen to Mr. Rogers. And so we looked for the helpers: the people and entities who have stepped up, dug deep and reached out – not because they had to or because anyone demanded it of them, but simply because they saw a world that needed help.
And we found that there are more helpers than we can count right now.
People are scouring the internet for patterns so they can volunteer to sew masks for first responders. 3D printing enthusiasts have packed up their gear and started creating nasal swabs for COVID-19 test kits by the thousands in their garages. All over the world, stories are unfolding about neighbors heading to the store for elderly community members, or customers buying thousands of dollars in gift cards from local businesses to help keep revenue coming in even if their doors are closed.
Last week, New Yorkers from all five boroughs – a group of people stereotypically renowned for not liking anyone or anything – spent two minutes leaning out their windows and offering up a round of applause for first responders and public health workers currently facing the COVID-19 tidal wave engulfing the city.
And the pull to do the helpful thing extends beyond individuals. During the countless executive interviews we’ve done over the last few weeks, the main reaction we have heard is a mad scramble to protect employees from both the health and economic consequences of COVID-19. Grocery, restaurant delivery and warehouse workers nationwide have started receiving hazard pay. Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, is paying out $550 million in employee bonuses to help combat the economic shortfall that reduced hours and social distancing have created for its massive workforce.
And then there is the host of firms – including Bank of America, PayPal, Visa, Morgan Stanley and Starbucks, among others – that have added certainty to uncertain times for their workforce by pledging to make no layoffs.
And the big actions aren’t just on behalf of their own workers – massive organizations are acting in sweeping, and sometimes extremely surprising, ways to try and help … well, everyone. Hotel and lodging brands, facing a massive slowdown in consumer bookings, have found another use for their rooms. Hilton, Marriott and Four Seasons hotels are all offering free rooms for front-line workers who need places to socially distance themselves from their families.
“Many of those working in New York City have to travel long distances to and from their homes after putting in 18-hour days,” Ty Warner, the chairman of the company that owns the Four Seasons in mid-town NYC, said in a statement. The establishment will offer rooms for state and medical workers during the crisis at no charge. Under normal circumstances, the average room at the five-star hotel books for north of $1,000 a night.
“They need a place close to work where they can rest and regenerate. I heard Governor Cuomo’s call to action during one of his press conferences, and there was no other option for us but do whatever we could to help,” Warner said.
Airbnb has made a similar offer to medical workers. Although it is not a property owner itself, it has opened up complimentary bookings for first responders, while also making sure hosts are adequately compensated for those stays on the backend.
And in addition to keeping first responders lodged, many firms are also working hard to keep them fed. Starbucks, Krispy Kreme and &pizza are now offering free food and/or drinks for customers who identify themselves as front-line responders to the COVID-19 outbreak. Taco Bell and Sweetgreen are taking it up a notch by delivering food to hospital workers, teachers, grocery store employees, ambulance drivers and other frontline workers.
And, taking on delivery at scale, Uber has pledged that it will deliver free meals to first responders and healthcare workers on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic across the U.S. and Canada in coordination with local, state and provincial governments. The goal, according to Uber, is to deliver more than 300,000 meals for health officials and first responders on the front line.
“We know that the work of medical and crisis response teams can be tireless, and the hours are long; we hope we can help in a small way. We’re doing what we can,” Uber CFO Nelson Chai told CNBC in a “Squawk Box.”
The food delivery program comes as the latest in Uber’s large-scale COVID-19 responses – the firm also recently announced it was waiving delivery fees across the U.S. and Canada, and that it would launch a financial assistance program for drivers diagnosed with the virus.
And then there was the week’s most surprising act of altruism: the New England Patriots donating 300,000 face masks for NYC coronavirus relief. (As it turns out, Jets and Giants fans will root for the Patriots – all it takes is a global health crisis.)
Earlier this week, a tractor-trailer sporting the Patriots’ name and logo rolled into the Javits Center loaded with hundreds of thousands of N95 respirator masks that were purchased directly from China by team owner Bob Kraft. All in, Kraft spent $2 million to purchase 1.2 million masks to be flown on the Pats plane for distribution in Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island.
“Seeing what’s going on and how things are so difficult, this is a gift of ours, these 300,000 masks and the transportation to the people of New York. We’re all in this together,” Kraft said during an appearance on NBC New York. “We want to give hope and good cheer at this time, that we’ll all [be] banding together and trying to do what’s right.”
Hope and cheer that the world sorely needs right now, as things are tough – and even optimistic estimates strongly indicate that they will get harder before they get easier. The scary stuff in the news isn't going to be over for a while.
But for all there is to worry about, there is also a tremendous amount to be hopeful for – embodied right now in the tremendous reserves of goodwill being tapped every day, and in places no one would expect. Because when looking for the helpers, we realize that even in a world where most of us are shut in our homes, we are nonetheless surrounded by them.
Or, as Fred Rogers more eloquently put it at the less-quoted end of that famous quote:
“I came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong.”