“When I was a boy and I would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

This quote, attributed to Mister Rogers, is featured on a meme that’s going around on social media right now. Shared with thousands of folks across the country, it’s been getting a lot of love from those craving a little optimism in this time of uncertainty.

It’s similar to another meme, on a local scale. Beth Pridday, a familiar face around Detroit Lakes, made a post on her Facebook page Saturday, March 14, offering to provide necessities to anyone in need during the coronavirus outbreak. It was posted along with a meme that reads, “Keep Calm and Help Others.”

“I’m a planner and I also have a nice ‘in stock’ of almost everything,” she said in the post. “So if you are desperately needing something and can’t find it, PM (private message) me — I probably have it.”

Pridday says a few people contacted her right away, and she’s given out a number of items since making her post. One woman needed hand sanitizer for her ill father when the stores were all out of it. Another — a day care provider — was desperate for tissues, while two others sought Pridday out for food.

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“I grew up in a small town, where I would walk next door and take eggs out of the fridge and a cup of sugar from my neighbors if we needed it,” Pridday wrote on Facebook. “Let’s go ‘old school,’ people, and help our neighbors.”

Pridday says she was inspired to make the post after going to the stores in town and being “shocked by what wasn’t there.” The sight of aisle-long bare shelves gave her the urge to do something. She turned to social media to reach out.

She’s not the only one.

Sarah Linn, for example, made a March 15 Facebook post offering to provide temporary child care while the schools are shut down, with parents who work in health care being her top priority.

Linn, a Detroit Lakes mom of three kids, was a licensed home day care provider for 11 years, and is still licensed. She just left the profession in June to work as a paraprofessional in the public school system, she says, and also works at the Essentia Health-St. Mary's Therapy Center. When the school shutdowns were announced, she knew there'd be an increased need for child care — and that it's critical for health care workers to continue to work throughout the coronavirus outbreak.

"I thought it would be a good way to help each other out," she said of her offer. "It would help me earn some extra income (while schools are closed), and I would hopefully be doing them (parents) a favor by keeping their kids safe and fed."

Anyone interested in Linn's offer of child care may call her at 218-316-4192.

All over town, people are stepping up to do whatever they can to help. They’re picking up and delivering food to friends, family and neighbors; they’re donating blood; they’re checking in on their elderly loved ones or anyone who might be feeling scared or isolated; they’re calling local nonprofits to make donations or volunteer; and some are donating their paid time off to coworkers who need to stay home with their kids.

Volunteer DL

So far, the volunteerism has been very grassroots — individuals in the community taking it upon themselves to help out, extending offers through social media and word of mouth.

As of Wednesday, March 18, however, a collective, community-wide effort had been organized to connect aspiring helpers to the local folks who could use some helpful services.

Steven Todd, the Detroit Lakes Police Chief, worked with Becker County Emergency Manager Craig Fontaine to create Volunteer DL, a program that connects local volunteers with people in the community who are in need of assistance.

Detroit Lakes Police Chief Steven Todd, after making a volunteer delivery to a senior in need in Detroit Lakes. (Marie Johnson / Tribune)
Detroit Lakes Police Chief Steven Todd, after making a volunteer delivery to a senior in need in Detroit Lakes. (Marie Johnson / Tribune)

The program grew and evolved rapidly out of a smaller-scale volunteer endeavor that started at the Detroit Lakes Police Department. Several volunteers from the department had been picking up and dropping off medications for local seniors.

“Over the weekend, as the coronavirus situation escalated, it came to our minds that we’ve got some senior citizen populations that are vulnerable to this disease,” Todd said on Tuesday of how the volunteering came about. “There are a lot of seniors who can’t or won’t go out, but still need essentials … We didn’t want them to be left behind.”

Eighty-three-year-old Evonne Meyhoff, for example, got a box of essentials delivered Wednesday to her Detroit Lakes home. She said she was grateful for the volunteer service, which she heard about through family members. While she's pretty well stocked up on food, there were things in that box that Meyhoff said she was looking forward to having. She's trying to stay inside her home for now, as her age and some existing health issues make her especially vulnerable to the coronavirus.

"I'm thankful that I found out about it (the delivery service)," she said, adding with a laugh that, "My kids have ordered me to stay in, and they call me every day to make sure I'm staying in."

Just a day or so after starting their volunteer efforts, Todd got a call from the Becker County Food Pantry, asking for help with home deliveries of food. Due to social distancing recommendations, the food pantry is not allowing any clients into the building, instead asking them to form a line in their cars and to grab their food boxes off a table. That’s a problem for people who use public transportation to get to and from the pantry; volunteer home delivery solves that problem.

All the deliveries are conducted with social distancing in mind. Volunteers wear a mask and stay at least 6 feet away from recipients, and Todd said some recipients ask them to just leave their items by the door.

A box of items delivered by a volunteer sits on a Detroit Lakes doorstep. (Marie Johnson / Tribune)
A box of items delivered by a volunteer sits on a Detroit Lakes doorstep. (Marie Johnson / Tribune)

In addition to the call from the food pantry, Todd said he’s been getting multiple calls from local residents asking if there's any way for them to help. He quickly realized that there was both a supply and demand for volunteers, and thus began expanding the police department’s initial good deeds into a bigger, broader program. He also quickly realized that someone else would need to head it up.

“Our core objective for the police department is to continue maintaining law enforcement and public safety services," he said. "We want to focus on that, so we’re looking at transitioning (our volunteer efforts) to citizen volunteers as the situation escalates.”

Todd spent the early part of this week getting Volunteer DL up and off the ground, with help from Fontaine, and then on Wednesday the reins were handed to an experienced volunteer coordinator, Deb Anderson, who will oversee the program for as long as it's needed.

As of mid-week, there were already at least five volunteers registered through the program, and two services requested. The requests that come in are varied, Todd said. It could be that someone needs a ride to a doctor’s appointment, or is running low on food and needs groceries.

“You don’t know exactly what the needs are going to be,” he said. “You just know they’re going to exist.”

Fortunately, he added, there are a number of generous people in the area who are willing and able to help.

“These crises and emergencies, they bring out the worst in people, but they also bring out the best,” Todd said. “While yes, there is some hoarding and panicking going on, there is good, as well.”

How to help, or get help

WHAT: Volunteer DL, a program that connects volunteers with people in need of assistance services

WHEN: Going on now throughout the coronavirus crisis

HOW TO SIGN UP: Call Deb Anderson, Volunteer DL's volunteer coordinator, at 218-850-3314, email volunteerDL@cityofdetroitlakes.com, or visit cityofdetroitlakes.com. Interested parties will have a one-page form to fill out, containing basic information about themselves and what they're interested in (either assistance services or volunteering).

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