At a time when so many negative stories flood the newscycle, it’s easy to overlook all of the good things that are happening in the world today. In this piece, we’ll highlight some of the everyday heroes who are doing extraordinary things to help those who have been affected by COVID-19. We’re honored to introduce Maggie, Rob, Scott, Heather, and Jen as our GoFundMe Heroes of the Month for April.
For over 31 years, Boston-based food truck company Saté Grill has been serving its community in more ways than one. In addition to filling countless bellies per day with its award-winning Vietnamese food, the family-owned and -operated company donates thousands of meals to the United Nations World Food Programme each year. Saté Grill’s Director of Community Outreach, Maggie Vo (whose father founded the food truck), explains that providing equitable access to food to underserved communities has always been a core part of Saté Grill’s mission.
So when COVID-19 eventually spread to Boston, Maggie and the rest of the Saté Grill team knew what they had to do to support their fellow Bostonians: continue serving them.
By mid-March, Maggie and her colleagues had completely overhauled Saté Grill’s workflow to meet the changing needs of the community. They developed a contact-free, highly sanitized meal delivery system that would allow the food truck to safely serve hot, healthy meals to the community. Maggie and her team also set up an SMS ordering system, through which customers in need could discreetly ask for meals. With everything in place, it was time for Saté Grill to hit the streets and start serving meals.
After several successful days of providing meals to people around the city, Maggie was thrilled, but she knew that Saté Grill wouldn’t be able to financially sustain the initiative for much longer. The business needed money to pay their beloved employees and cover the cost of other essential expenses. So Maggie created a GoFundMe on Saté Grill’s behalf.
The response from the Boston community was huge. The small food truck raised over $4,000 within a couple of weeks, motivating Maggie to set her sights on even bigger goals.
In an effort to maximize Saté Grill’s impact in the community, Maggie reached out to city officials to see where Saté Grill’s expertise could be put to good use. They connected her to several hospitals and homeless shelters in need of meal donations. Ever since then, Maggie and the Saté Grill team have been working hard to serve them, despite their business’ own uncertain fate.
“My dad told me that this business might not survive… But it’s our duty to make sure that if we go down… we’re fighting every step of the way to [help our community]. We’ll do it until we physically can’t anymore.”
To learn more about Maggie and Saté Grill’s selfless mission to feed the Boston community, listen to her interview on GoFundMe’s True Stories of Good People podcast.
As a resident of Wilmington, North Carolina, Rob Kaiser is no stranger to statewide crises. Every couple of years, he and thousands of other North Carolinians are advised to stock up on essential supplies and shelter-in-place for a few days while a hurricane tears up the East Coast. So when Rob first learned about the coronavirus outbreak, he figured that he and his community would weather the pandemic just like any other passing storm. But as state after state issued widespread shutdowns, he quickly realized that the virus was here to stay, and that his city was in danger. Rob knew he had to act fast to help his beloved community, especially the small businesses and healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic. But he didn’t know how.
After days of racking his brain for ways that he could help, Rob stumbled upon a CBS News story that captured his attention. The story featured a woman in Washington DC who was raising money to buy takeout meals from local restaurants and delivering them to hungry hospital workers around the city. Rob was so inspired by the story that he immediately started thinking of ways that he could do the same thing in his own community–only with a bigger impact.
To help him brainstorm, Rob connected with fellow Wilmington resident Scott Adams, who’s built many close relationships with local restaurant owners through his job at US Foods. Like Rob, Scott’s heart ached for the struggling restaurants in the community, and for the first responders and healthcare workers who were working around the clock to save lives. Together, the two men were determined to find a way to help both industries and maximize their impact in the Wilmington community.
After just one weekend of intense collaboration, Rob and Scott launched Meals for Heroes, an initiative to raise money to buy meals from local restaurants and give them to community-nominated first responders and healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic. Here’s how it worked:
Rob created a GoFundMe campaign with the goal of raising $9,000 – enough to buy $300-worth of meals from local restaurants for every day in April. Then, he set up a web page that enabled Wilmington community members to nominate local healthcare providers and first responders to receive meals. Finally, Scott connected with local restaurants and hired them to cook and deliver contact-free meals to the nominees.
Without hesitation, the Wilmington community rallied behind Rob and Scott’s mission, crushing their $9,000 fundraising goal and nominating hundreds of heroes within the first 24 hours of their launch.
With their work cut out for them, Rob and Scott hit the ground running and coordinated their first meal deliveries. While the deliveries were a huge success, it quickly became clear that they needed to find a better, more efficient way to feed all of the hungry healthcare workers and first responders in their community. So with the help of some creative hospital administrators, Rob & Scott came up with a new plan.
Down the road from one of Wilmington’s biggest hospitals was a turnout along the street. Rob and Scott coordinated with local restaurants, food trucks, and countless other community groups to set up a grab-and-go meal station in the turnout, providing healthcare workers and first responders with an easy way to receive meals before or after their shifts.
But when the heroes visit the turnout, a meal isn’t the only thing they get. With every meal, healthcare workers and first responders also receive cheers from volunteers as well as handmade thank-you notes from local school children.
Since its inception, Meals for Heroes has provided both nourishment and joy to hundreds of healthcare workers and first responders each day. In honor of the incredible things that happen in the turnout, the community has since named it “Gratitude Lane.”
To date, Rob and Scott have raised over $35,000 for Meals for Heroes. They feel grateful for the opportunity to support their community during this time of crisis, and they encourage others to do the same.
“These kinds of times bond people and make them stronger, and it brings the best out of people.” Rob adds, “Even if you don’t have the money to donate to a cause like this… one of the most important things you can do is to let [businesses and healthcare workers] hear your appreciation.”
To learn more about Rob and Scott’s Meals for Heroes initiative, listen to their interview on GoFundMe’s True Stories of Good People podcast.
Up until March, things were going pretty well for Heather Cook and her fellow artists at NorthStar Church of the Arts in Durham, North Carolina. As the Executive Director of the small arts nonprofit, it seemed to Heather like NorthStar was just hitting its stride as it approached its first anniversary. The organization’s new venue, a 1931 Gothic Revival church in downtown Durham, was a hotspot for local artists – an inclusive space where they could explore their creativity, collaborate with one another, and showcase their talents. NorthStar’s frequent live performances, educational workshops, and electrifying Sunday services never failed to invigorate its vibrant community of creatives.
But all of that momentum came to a halt when the coronavirus pandemic hit Durham in mid-March. In accordance with statewide social distancing mandates, NorthStar had no choice but to close its doors to the community. Suddenly, local artists who relied on places like NorthStar to showcase their art no longer had the means to make a living. What’s more, Heather feared that the artists’ loss of income would cause them to question the value and relevance of their work.
Determined to help Durham artists through this difficult time and remind them of their importance, Heather turned to GoFundMe to create the Durham Artist Relief Fund. All proceeds of the fundraiser would go directly to Durham artists who have been financially impacted by the coronavirus, with priority given to artists of color, transgender artists, and artists with disabilities.
Within hours of launching the fundraiser, donors from across the country came out in virtual droves to support the cause. In just over one month, the Durham Artist Relief Fund raised over $57,000 for artists in the community.
According to Heather, the most rewarding part about organizing the fundraiser was digitally distributing the funds to those in need and, in turn, receiving messages of gratitude from the recipients. For most artists, the Durham Artist Relief Fund not only provided them with the means to cover essential expenses like rent, groceries, and medications—it provided them with a sense of hope for the future.
While Heather longs for the day that NorthStar can reopen its doors, she’s grateful for the opportunity to give back to the community that she holds so close to her heart. She plans to continue supporting artists in her community through the Durham Artist Relief Fund, and she encourages others to follow suit.
“When we get to times of crisis, oftentimes, one of the first places we turn to is poetry or music or dance. We look for creatives to help us contextualize what’s happening. And if there was ever a time that we need some context, I would say that it’s right now… Think of what [art] does for you and what price you would put on it. It’s very likely more than what you’d pay for a concert ticket or a subscription to a streaming service.”
To learn more about Heather and her mission to support the Durham arts community, listen to her interview on GoFundMe’s True Stories of Good People podcast.
Jen Wickens will never forget the sequence of events that followed the coronavirus outbreak in her home state of Washington. As the first US state to get hit hard by the virus, none of its residents knew what to expect. Jen recalls talking to her friends and neighbors about the virus as a nebulous, looming threat, and then the next thing she knew, Washington State–along with all of its public schools–completely shut down.
As the Chief Executive Officer of Impact Public Schools, an organization that works to close the opportunity gap for diverse communities across Washington State, Jen felt for her students and their families, especially for those who lived in low-income communities. She knew that many of them relied on the public charter school’s services to feed and care for their children while they were at work. Moving quickly to address those basic needs, Jen mobilized her team at Impact to help coordinate meal deliveries and provide childcare services to families in need.
Then, Jen had to tackle a different challenge: providing every single one of her students with equitable access to distance learning tools, including computers and wireless Internet. To achieve this goal, Jen needed to raise a significant amount of money — so she launched a GoFundMe.
Jen shared her GoFundMe far and wide with her community, and the resulting response was huge. In just one week, donors from across the state and beyond raised over $20,000 for Impact Public Schools, enabling them to provide computers, wireless Internet, and highly acclaimed distance learning opportunities to 100% of their students in need.
Moving forward, Jen and her team are on a mission to further close the education gap by offering their renowned distance learning program, Impact at Home, to as many children in Washington State as possible. With every donation to Jen’s GoFundMe campaign, Impact Public Schools gets one step closer to achieving that goal.
“At Impact, we’re always inspired by a challenge… I feel grateful to be in this community of people who just never stop working on behalf of the students we serve.”
To learn more about Jen and Impact Public Schools, listen to her interview on GoFundMe’s True Stories of Good People podcast.