My front yard isn’t occupied with a sign that reads, “What a year this week has been.” It’s not because I don’t share the sentiment; I’m just not a yard sign sort of neighbor.
If I were, the one I’d plant in the ground would be printed with these words: “Good job, Matt Gunter.”
Gunter is a resident of Brookhaven who works for Deluxe Corp., a company that manufactures checks — the printed kind that we use less and less these days. They are working at staying relevant in the digital age, and he’s happy he has a job. But, there’s more to Gunter. He deserves credit for feeding hundreds of essential workers in Brookhaven, while supporting nearly a dozen local restaurants in the process.
Gunter’s wife is a physician at St. Joseph’s Hospital. When the pandemic struck, he felt a call to action, and approached a couple of neighbors about pitching in to buy food from nearby restaurants and deliver it to frontline workers. His neighbors jumped aboard the plan, but, when Gunter checked in with hospital staff, the reply was, “We’re pretty well taken care of.”
However, plenty of folks — from grocery store employees to first responders — had been designated essential workers. Gunter figured they also might welcome a free meal.
He shared his idea on social networking site NextDoor. “A couple of us decided to order some pizzas from Blue Moon to get delivered to the Town Brookhaven Publix tomorrow to thank them for being on the front lines of the current outbreak and helping to keep us all fed. If you want to chip in on the order, please let me know,” he posted in mid-April.
The outpouring of support from neighbors was immediate. Not only did he amass enough money to bring 30 pizzas to 100 Publix workers, but he had money left over. So, he kept going, and refined the process.
Rather than use a cash app, he set up a GoFundMe page. He let donors vote for the organization they wanted to feed. He kept things as transparent as possible by showing a photo of the delivery, and the restaurant receipt.
“People could see the tangible results of where the money was going,” he said. “I think people really appreciated that, and the transparency. Every dollar was accounted for. It was a great feeling to give back.”
In the course of 10 weeks, Gunter raised more than $6,000 through donations that ranged from $5 to $1,000. The majority of donors were total strangers to Gunter. “We’re just folks who wanted to support the local community,” he said.
He also was deliberate about leaving politics out of his posts. “There’s a lot of divisiveness on NextDoor. I wanted to make sure people felt like we are trying to do something good. I didn’t want to give any reason for someone to not donate, because they were upset with me personally.”
On the receiver end, cold-calls to the local fire and police stations, the post office, grocery stores and animal hospitals initially may have been met with suspicion, then shock — “You want to bring us food?” — but, each time, the gift was welcomed.
“The post office — I thought the guy was going to cry,” Gunter said. “He was just so grateful and happy. He was overcome with emotion by the community support.
“I have never been this proactive,” Gunter added. “It was gratifying for me personally to do this. The country is in a divided state right now, but this is something people can rally around. I never expected it to be as big as it was. We just expected to buy pizzas for a few folks at Publix.”
His story demonstrates how one person’s action can have an impact. Some acts of kindness don’t blow up like Gunter’s, but they ought not be dismissed or diminished.
“What’s a small way you help someone else in a moment of need?”
That question recently was posed by a colleague on her Facebook page. She was sharing her habit of keeping extra umbrellas in her car, to offer to people caught unexpectedly in a downpour.
Her post drew not only praise, but also the sharing of other ways where one small deed might make a difference. Folks mentioned how they help the homeless by stashing their cars with things like extra shoes, sleeves of packaged crackers, and even purses filled with feminine products and toiletries. Moments when they encounter a panhandler at an intersection become opportunities to give.
There were more ideas for random acts of kindness: pay for someone’s gas, or for the groceries of the person standing in line behind you. Pick up the tab for the car idling behind you in the fast-food drive-through. Use a cash app such as Venmo to send money to a friend who’s on your mind with a note: “Lunch is on me.”
Reading that post, and the comments it elicited, was exactly what I needed. Between the pandemic, politics and matters both professional and personal, I find myself slogging through the day. Heck, I’ve even taken up Zoom yoga laughter, to shake off the sadness and shake up the routine.
The Facebook post got me thinking: What was a small way I could help someone? What thoughtful gesture was within my reach?
Certainly, I can donate money to causes I care about, but there’s a unique satisfaction that comes from one-on-one, human-to-human interaction. The opportunity presented itself when I least expected it.
It was a weekday afternoon, and I had gone outside to take a work break. Just as I was standing in my cucumber patch, gathering cukes that had grown from baby to big mama seemingly overnight, our mail carrier drove up.
I don’t know about you, but I really feel for postal workers lately. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds, goes the saying. Add pandemic to the list of obstacles. Plus, through no fault of their own, U.S. Postal Service employees are caught in the crosshairs of a political fight that probably won’t end until after the November election.
Anyway, I’m standing in the terraced vegetable plots adjacent to my steep driveway, holding a few cucumbers in my hand. The mail carrier pulls up. All human sightings these days are exciting, so I say howdy. My next words came out of nowhere: “Do you want any cucumbers?”
“Sure,” she said, a bit of surprise in her voice, but not the least hesitant.
She began to reach her hand out of the truck. I shook my head no. She was wearing a mask, but mine was inside, so I did what any citizen who is hyper-concerned about social distancing would do — I walked over to my mailbox and shoved the cucumbers in it. Just for kicks, I put the red flag up. I stepped back; she drove closer and put the vegetables in the truck. Contactless cucumber exchange complete.
Did I change this woman’s life by giving her a few cucumbers? Of course, not. But, we both had a good laugh. The quirkiness of the short-lived episode tickled me the rest of the day, and got me pondering what other produce I can shove into my mailbox. Figs, okra, green beans, peppers and eggplant might be welcome presents. Come fall, there’ll be leafy greens, maybe Brussels sprouts, too.
I am not an organizer like Matt Gunter. I am not an umbrella angel like my colleague Monica Richardson. But, I can parcel out cucumbers to mail carriers.
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