Pandemic of LOVE arrives in Reno

Volunteers join national system of person-to-person aid

IMAGE/PANDEMIC OF LOVE: The grassroots effort matches people who need help to potential donors who can provide it.

Compassion is contagious; kindness is catching. Love is a multiplier of both.

In March, a woman in Florida began a grassroots effort to encourage people who are in a relatively good financial position during the pandemic to directly help others who are suffering during the contagion. She uploaded a 50-second video to her Instagram account and by the next day she had received 400 requests for assistance and 500 offers of help.

Her idea took off at the speed of the internet. That network, Pandemic of LOVE, now has chapters throughout North America – including the newest branch serving Northern Nevada.

“I was looking for ways to help,” said Patty Evans of Reno, a retired healthcare executive. “I saw (national TV coverage) about the Pandemic of LOVE and there was no chapter for Reno-Sparks. I thought, ‘what the heck, I’ll jump in and get it going.’”

Evans put out the word on social media and via emails to friends and wound up with more than a dozen volunteers and potential donors. The effort is a matching system in which those who need help and potential donors sign up and answer a few questions on the national website. Then the information is relayed to volunteers at local chapters who match requests with potential donors.

The effort goes viral

Since March, Pandemic of LOVE has blossomed into a network of more than 1,500 volunteers worldwide and has completed more than 600,000 matches between families in need and patrons who are willing to help them. So far, the effort has tallied about $52.5 million in direct-aid transactions, according to its website.

The organization doesn’t handle any money. The donors usually make direct payments to utility companies, phone providers, landlords or others who are waiting to be paid by the people who have sought help. The prospective donors also may channel people to local resources or provide them with gift cards to specific local businesses.

Discrete and secure

Initial email connections between donors and recipients are made through the organization’s system, rather than through the volunteers’ personal emails. The donor then may connect with the person in need via email or phone call once the match is made.

VIDEO/PANDEMIC OF LOVE: The Instagram video that began the movement in March.

Shelly Tygielski, a mindfulness teacher in Florida, launched Pandemic of LOVE  in Fort Lauderdale after seeing people around her losing their jobs. She said her social media feeds were full of comments from people worried not just about their health in the pandemic, but also about the financial pressures that accompanied the crisis. She made a video, above, and posted it on Instagram.

“I wanted to turn from this environment of fear to an opportunity for us to create connection, community and strengthen the bonds of love between us,” Tygielski told CNN.

Average request about $150

She said that the majority of people seeking help want to stock up on food and supplies for the children, and that the average request is about $150.

“On a personal level, it shows me that a person can make a difference when you aggregate this act of kindness. You know viruses can be scary things, but the word ‘viral’ does not have to be negative. A lot of positive things can go viral like hope and faith and love. And love can be the cure.”

– Shelly Tygielski, who founded the organization in March.

The Northern Nevada chapter so far has about 15 volunteers and has helped a handful of people.  Chapter members are encouraging prospective donors and people who need help to make ends meet during the pandemic to sign up at the national website by scrolling down to the Nevada listing and filling out the form. Their information, whether they are someone in need or a potential donor, will be funneled to the Reno-Sparks group.

Those who have questions about the Northern Nevada chapter or who want to volunteer to help the local group may send an email to pandemicofloverenosparks@gmail.com

Keeping the heat on

“One woman we helped recently is a 34-year-old single mom from Fallon,” Evans said. “She has one child and had just lost her job.” The woman’s gas heater broke and propane escaped. The unit got fixed, but she was left with an exorbitant gas bill on top of other financial insecurities. Evans said the woman was asked “what keeps you up at night?” and her gas bill was at the top of her list of concerns.

“So we got that worry off that single mom’s plate,” Evans said. “A donor (who is originally) from Fallon paid the money directly to Southwest Gas.”

Those who apply for assistance, Evans said, are subject to some “minimal vetting” through Google searches. Donors can communicate directly with the people who need help or they can assist through an intermediary. The group has just established a Give Butter account which allows donors to give anonymously by texting GTH to (202)858-1233. The money given through the platform are then routed to those in need.  Give Butter is a fundraising mechanism used by most of the chapters in the Pandemic of Love community.

Volunteers become donors

Some of the local volunteers, who match donors with the requests for help, have doubled as donors themselves. One woman was about to have her cell phone turned off, which meant she would have little chance of finding another job. A volunteer assigned the match to herself and paid $55 to the woman’s phone provider. “She needed that phone to look for jobs on the internet and to communicate with prospective employers,” said volunteer Sharon Holland of Wingfield Springs.

The Reno-Sparks chapter also acts as a referral service, she said.

“We let them know about resources, such as rental assistance, the Food Bank, utility bill programs, the Children’s Cabinet for daycare,” Holland said. “If they haven’t been in this position before, they may not know where to go… One woman who recently applied is worried about losing her internet service. She needs that to look for work and her kids need it for distance learning.”

Holland said that the school district has done some outreach to internet providers about families in that position, “so that’s where we’ll start.”

IMAGE/PANDEMIC OF LOVE: Shelly Tygielski in a photo on the group’s website.

Making a difference

Jeanne Pomi, a friend of Evans and a health care data consultant, was among those who initially responded to the request for volunteers. She matches the donors with those who need help and also has been a donor herself. She helped the woman from Fallon with her gas bill.

“I want to make a difference; I think we all want to make a difference,” she said. “Some people received stimulus money and don’t really need it and this is a way to get it to people who need it. (Our donors) are people who have some income and are in a position to help others.”

Spreading the word

“You can interact directly with the people or not. There are a lot of people out there who need help, and Pandemic of LOVE lets you be involved at a level that you are comfortable with.”

– Jeanne Pomi, local Pandemic of LOVE volunteer.

So far, the local chapter has been getting the word out via social media, including Facebook and nextdoor. The pool of volunteers is growing and they hope to be kept busy matching local donors with the people who need a hand up during the pandemic.

“It’s an act of kindness and connection,” Evans said.

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