TAYLORSVILLE — Before talking with the woman sitting in the waiting room of the medical office, Jennie Brown was consumed with her own worries.

The single mother of five wondered what she might do if her paycheck was reduced or how she’d cope in the wake of school closures. 

As she listened to the worries of the elderly woman who waited for a ride in her office last week, her own problems seemed to shrink.

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“She was talking about how she was scared because she doesn’t drive,” Brown said, “and she doesn’t have family, lives on a fixed income, and everyone is out getting groceries, and she doesn’t know what to do.” 

Brown moved from behind her desk and wondered what she could do.

“I went and sat by her and asked what I could do,” Brown said. “I asked if I could take her grocery shopping after the office closed.”

The woman resisted, but Brown wouldn’t take no for an answer. She picked her up after work and took her to a nearby Smith’s. It quickly became clear the woman was trying to buy as little as possible because she was worried about Brown.

“She’d grab like the cheapest thing possible,” Brown said, adding she’d pick up one can of soup and then Brown would add a couple more to their cart. “I said, ‘What is something you want?’ She said, ‘Cat food.’ I said, ‘You’re worried about your cat.’ We got her some cat food, some frozen meals that could last a long time, water, cleaning supplies and some first aid things.”

All through the store, the woman voiced concerns about Brown stretching herself too thin.

“She was just so not wanting me to do it, but I just couldn’t not do it.”

She thought of her own mother, who passed away a couple of years ago.

“She struggled on Social Security just to survive,” Brown said. “I just couldn’t let (this woman) go through that.”

As she watched the panic buying, she felt more anxious herself. During her own shopping trip, she heard some women talking about how they didn’t get food stamps until midmonth, and they worried there would be no essentials left in stores. 

The shopping trip with her elderly friend changed that.

“It helped my soul,” she said. “All of this mass hysteria, everyone in a panic, and I’m trying to keep my kids calm. I’m trying to show them there is nothing to panic about, but I want this to kind of be a way for everyone to rally together.”

Her act of kindness was a message to her children, as much as it was a message to the woman she helped.

“We’re all in this together,” she said.

“We’re all struggling. We’re all scared. We’re all frantic. We have to look out for those people out there who need help, who are on fixed incomes, and who are at most risk.”

As of Tuesday, both Salt Lake and Summit counties had shut down dine-in options at restaurants, shut down bars and taverns and asked people not to gather in groups of 50 or more. The Utah Department of Health said nearly 900 people have been tested in Utah, with 52 cases of the new coronavirus confirmed.

In the wake of schools closing, Chad Prichard, owner of Fat Daddy’s Pizza in Provo, said he worried about children who rely on schools for most of their nutrition. 

“Our kids eat both meals at school (breakfast and lunch) because my wife and I both work,” he said. “I thought, ‘If this is a problem with my kids, it’s surely a problem with someone else’s.’”

He posted an offer on Facebook — free lunch for any kid, no questions asked Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. The first day’s lunch, packed in a bag to go, was cheese pizza with fresh cut vegetables and fruit, accompanied by a small lemonade.

Most of those who came to get lunch on Monday were accompanied by parents.

One mom said she is sending her three children to different neighbor’s homes while she works. She was thrilled to see a Facebook post offering free lunch, and her sons gave the pizza rave reviews.

“We appreciate it so much,” said Gissela Perdomo, who came in with her sister and their combined four children. 

Prichard said he’ll offer a variety of food for whoever needs it, as long as he can. Some saw his post and offered him donations to help support the effort. 

“I just look at it like this,” he said. “There is a need to fill. It’s something for us that we can do. It’s very important to us that these kids know they’re loved and cared for.”

Correy Rasmuson and her Lehi neighborhood have a Facebook page where they share information with each other. 

“I posted in there, ‘If anyone doesn’t feel comfortable going to the store because of medical issues or age, we’ll have their backs. We’ll be there to help them out, so let me know’,” she said. “There was a pretty overwhelming response about what people needed. So I just decided to do a sign-up.”

She created a site where people could post if they had extra items of essentials in high demand, and where others could post needs. 

“Sometimes people don’t want to reach out, so I’m sending messages to people, too,” she said. “Some people may not want to put it online. It’s going really well, and people have been very giving.”

Organizing has given Rasmuson more than some new connections with her neighbors.

“I felt so much better,” she said. “It was nice feeling like you had some control. I really wasn’t sure if people were going to be very giving. Wipes, Lysol and those kinds of products are sparse, but people have been really awesome.”

They’ve even shared toilet paper, she said with a laugh.

When Grant Elementary School shut down abruptly last Thursday, Principal Mindy Millerberg Ball was concerned that her students remember that although they are away from her and their teachers, they are still in her heart. So every night, she reads her students a bedtime story on Facebook Live. 

As she reads, sometimes with the assistance of another teacher, the students post messages saying hello or expressing affection. It has been a much needed connection for many of them who miss their friends and school community.

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Social media is full of acts of kindness small and large, from a waitress who received a $500 tip to community handing out food and essentials in a parking lot in Orem. Nationally, Broadway star Laura Benanti started a beautiful movement on Twitter when she invited any student who didn’t get to perform in their school’s spring musical to perform on Twitter for her. Other stars, including Lin Manuel Miranda, followed her lead and the #sunshinesongs was born. 

The unprecedented closures and quarantines have offered examples of greed and fear, but they’re also bringing new examples of love and hope, as well.

Brown said that when the panic starts to feel overwhelming, we need to remember that no one has to deal with this crisis alone.

“We have to rally because we’re all in this together,” Brown said. “It’s going to test the humanity and kindness of the world. It will challenge us to be better people. So just be the neighbor you’d want in your life.”

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