The Atlanta spirit: Tough times spark good deeds

Doris Mukangu (center in blue dress) and women from the Amani Women Center are shown at a graduation ceremony a few weeks ago. Graduates are gifted brand-new sewing machines upon graduation. They are making masks for health care professionals and can use donations to help. Also, Mukangu, founder of the center, is making sure Clarkston's refugee community understands precautions about the coronavirus.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Doris Mukangu (center in blue dress) and women from the Amani Women Center are shown at a graduation ceremony a few weeks ago. Graduates are gifted brand-new sewing machines upon graduation. They are making masks for health care professionals and can use donations to help. Also, Mukangu, founder of the center, is making sure Clarkston's refugee community understands precautions about the coronavirus.

When disaster strikes, “look for the helpers.”

That’s what Fred Rogers, of “Mister Rogers” fame, used to tell his young audience.

Tough times bring out the best in some people.

During this coronavirus pandemic, in a time of over-stressed hospitals and economic hardship, many Atlantans have stepped up to help.

Among the big helpers are the Blank Family Foundation, the Coca-Cola Co. and the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation; each have put up $5 million or more to help fight the pandemic.

There are also more ordinary people doing their part.

Here are a few.

Translating the message to 9 languages

Doris Mukangu did not want information about the coronavirus to get lost in translation in Clarkston’s refugee community.

So, for the past few weeks, Mukangu and her team have been on the phone and on social media nearly nonstop reaching out to families with information about social distancing, recognizing symptoms of the illness and how to protect themselves. They have also started sending out video clips with coronavirus information.

"They're not sure whom to trust," said Mukangu, founder of the Amani Women Center. And that often means conflicting messages.

“I don’t think they’re really watching the news,” she said. “One person says something and it gets passed on to another. They’re getting advice from each other and not medical experts. That’s not a good thing at all.”

>> COMPLETE COVERAGE: Everything you need to know about coronavirus

Mukangu, a native of Kenya, has a degree from Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. She founded the nonprofit in 2006 primarily to help refugees navigate the U.S. medical system through language and cultural barriers.

The nonprofit’s work later expanded to include a sewing academy and workforce readiness programs. The women are helping during the pandemic by sewing masks for health care professionals as a way to give back.

Mukangu, though, knew they needed more: information that is easily digestible and received in a timely manner.

She’s battling misconceptions like only older people can get sick. Or how the virus is transmitted.

It’s also cultural. Many immigrant and refugee communities are communal in nature, she said. They spend a lot of time at the mosque or church, at each other’s homes. “Visiting each other is such a cultural norm, it’s hard to tell them you don’t need to be doing that anymore.”

There are other challenges as well.

“Some of the people in the community are coming from a background of war,” where cities were devastated and tens of thousands of people died or are missing, she said. “To them, by comparison, what’s going on in this situation doesn’t seem that serious.”

She’s able to reach a community of several faiths and languages. Her messages go out in Amharic, Tigrinya, Somali, Swahili, Oromo, Kinyarwanda, Arabic, Burmese and French.

Many in the community are not able to work remotely or take extended time off. If they don’t work, they don’t get paid.

Some of the people work in the poultry industry in Gainesville, where they may be in a van to and from work for several hours a day with 13 to 15 others.

Social distancing, she said, can be very hard to emphasize. She tells them when they get off the van to make sure they wash their hands and don’t touch their faces.

Mukangu said it will take working with refugee resettlement agencies and other nonprofits to make sure the community is safe. “We have to figure out how we can work together to share our resources and ideas,” she said. “We still have a ways to go.”

Marina Staples baked 150 miniature cakes for the staff at Grady Hospital to show her appreciation for the work they do. It’s one woman’s effort to make things better during the coronavirus pandemic. 

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The sweet taste of gratitude

You can say thank you in many different ways. Marina Staples likes to say it with cake.

In particular, she speaks the language of pineapple upside-down cake and lemon drop pound cake (with Key lime icing).

Because Staples’ daughter Regina Randle works at Grady Hospital, Staples knows how stressed the world of the hospital is right now. In a grateful gesture, she baked 150 cakes for the doctors, nurses and staff.

>> RELATED: As virus spreads, a growing fear of overwhelmed Georgia hospitals

“I’m not done,” said Staples, 64, of Lawrenceville. “I’m on a fixed income. Next week, when I have money again, I’m going to restock.” Staples is retired from a career first at AT&T, then in day care, and has been active in statewide leadership in the PTA.

The cakes were individual-sized, though Staples also bakes full-sized cakes for all occasions. Given enough ingredients, “I would bake every day,” she said. “It’s cathartic for me, it truly is.”

Randle said her colleagues “thought the cakes were too pretty to eat.” Their beauty, however, did not protect the cakes from being devoured. “After they ate them, there were too many thank yous for her, about how much they appreciated it and how it lifted their spirits.”

Said Staples, “I’m looking for someone to get me in the doors at the other hospitals.”

Visit her Facebook page to learn how to help:

Flying mercy missions

About once a week, Doug Ellis pushes his single-engine Piper Archer out of its hangar at Charlie Brown Field and flies a sick person to a hospital somewhere in the eastern U.S.

Many of those passengers are seeking treatment for cancer, or for other diseases that leave them prone to infection. Some can’t fly commercial for fear of COVID-19. Some have no other transportation, such as the blind woman Ellis flew from Moncks Corner, South Carolina, to treatment in Columbia, South Carolina.

Ellis is one of 1,000 pilots who participate in the medical transport charity, Angel Flight Soars, which logged more than 3,700 flights last year.

This spring, the coronavirus pandemic has made the free service provided by Ellis and his fellow pilots even more critical. “Now with the commercial airlines quieting down and canceling flights, we’re in great demand,” said Ellis.

But the pandemic has also put the pilots and the program under pressure. There is no social distance inside a Piper Archer, which has the roomy interior of a Volkswagen Beetle. And many pilots, including Ellis, are of retirement age themselves, or older, placing them in a vulnerable demographic.

Ellis, 83, is the former CEO of Southern Mills, a specialty textile company that manufactures fire-resistant fabrics for the military, public safety and race-car drivers. “I get a lot of pushback from members of the family and friends,” said Ellis, all of whom are worried about his health as well as the health of his passengers.

Angel Flight Soars takes care to avoid contagion, recommending that their pilots sanitize the interior of the planes, wash hands, and make sure they’re healthy before they conduct a flight, said executive director Jeanine Chambers.

“It’s a leap of faith for sure,” said Chambers. “We are ensuring for the patients that the pilots are going through screening and follow the CDC guidelines.” Angel Flight pilots complete about 10 missions a day, seven days a week, she said.

“This is what I do in retirement,” said Ellis. “I’m a terrible golfer and I can’t fish all the time, so what do I do? I brought a brand-new Piper Archer out of the factory 20 years ago, and I’ve been flying ever since.”

Kisha Cameron is co-owner of a Subway on Campbellton Road in Atlanta. The restaurant gave away food to students who were no longer in school. 

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Feeding the children

When Kisha and Robert Cameron heard that schools were going to close because of the coronavirus, the couple sprang into action. Their biggest concern was how students, especially those on free and reduced lunches, would eat.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve got to feed those kids,’” she said. “My husband and I sat down and figured out how we could make this happen. Being a mom, I felt compassion for working moms who won’t be able to prepare meals for the children at home. It was a natural reaction.”

The Camerons have owned a Subway on Campbellton Road in Atlanta for nearly 10 years. The community had supported them, and now they wanted to do something in return.

Kisha Cameron attended public schools in New York. At times, she’s been on reduced lunch programs — “been there, done that” — so she understands the challenges. Her husband works as a police officer with the Atlanta Police Department.

Although they’ve had to reduce hours because the pandemic is causing fewer people to eat out, they still wanted to help.

So, recently, the Camerons and their staff got to work. When the store was closed to the public at night, they started making 85 free meals consisting of a 6-inch sub, chips and a cookie.

The aim was to feed the children, but some parents ended up getting a meal as well.

>> RELATED: Gwinnett mothers step in to make sure more kids get meals

A few days later, they did it again.

Fifty prepackaged meals went in 30 minutes. The demand was still there, so they pumped up the assembly line to make meals to give away on the spot.

“Everyone was so grateful,” said Kisha Cameron, a 1995 graduate of Clark Atlanta University. “It was amazing and everyone was in need.”

Older people are next on their list to help.

“People are being generous right now, but in three or four weeks from now, let’s see where we are,” Kisha Cameron said.

Stacy Franklin, dealing with chemothearapy, was feeling low, so her sorority sisters from Alpha Kappa Alpha gave her a serenade, with safe social distancing, outside her Henry County house. 

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Serenading sisters

How do we manage social distance when our sick friends need a hug?

Stacy Franklin, who’s on chemotherapy for a recurrence of breast cancer, has been isolated at her Henry County home, which makes her treatment even more difficult to bear. Last Sunday, Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sisters came to the rescue.

About a dozen of her sorors lined up in the front yard of her home — all of them at an appropriate distance from each other and from the house — and sang and prayed and even did a bit of a “stroll.”

>> RELATED: Virus forces hard choices for Georgians living with weakened immunity

“THIS is the epitome of sisterhood,” wrote Franklin, 53, on her Facebook page, of the surprise serenade. “I will never forget the unspeakable joy that my line sisters have given me from day 1! We are sisters for life!”

The serenade was caught on video, and has now been featured on television news shows and across social media.

Franklin, part of an AKA chapter they call the Fabulous 15, has been quarantining with her daughter Shannon Thompson and her grandchildren, since her cancer treatment has made her more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Granddaughter Brooky can be heard in the video, luring her grandmother out to the front door to see her friends.

Stacy Franklin had to go to the hospital for her surgery by herself because of coronavirus, but her sisters didn't want her to feel alone.

Thompson wrote, “I am so grateful for the happiness and love that the Fabulous 15 brought to my mom today. This is what our wonderful sisterhood is about, and you ladies have shown up in the most incredible way.”

Franklin’s sister Keya Fulton said what the sorority really wants to do is wrap their arms around their sister. But because Franklin’s chemotherapy has suppressed her immune system, they can’t risk it.

“They called and said, ‘We want to show her some love, and love on her — from a distance,’” Fulton said. “And that’s what they did.” As Franklin came to the door, she saw her friends singing “God’s Got a Blessing (With My Name on It).”

Franklin had been in the hospital earlier this month with breathing difficulties, and her sorority sisters had been visiting her, bringing food and flowers and good cheer. “But now with everything developing, they haven’t been able to do any of that,” Thompson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This is their way of showing up to show their love and support.”