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Community

Small WhatsApps, big gestures, warm hearts

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Amid the unfolding trauma of the crippling COVID-19 third wave, an unprecedented spirit of generosity has inspired countless acts of kindness.

When Johannesburg mother Ricci Kodesh was ill with COVID-19 a few weeks ago, she was overwhelmed by generosity from family and friends during her 10 days of isolation. “It’s a very lonely and scary time,” she said.

When she saw the numbers of COVID-19 cases in the community starting to spike, she wanted to make a difference in the lives of those hit with the disease. So, she started a voluntary WhatsApp Community COVID Care Group that has grown rapidly.

“There are more than 100 carers who at any given time drop off care packages for people, in most cases complete strangers affected by the virus,” said Kodesh, 43, a Sandton mother of two sons.

“A small gesture can mean so much, anything from coffee, soup and bagels, to babke, fruit, flowers, and magazines. People have been amazing, the community has pulled together,” she said.

When news that mother of two, Monique Leibowitz, 46, tragically passed away from COVID-19 on the weekend, Ricci’s care group went into overdrive.

Within minutes, dozens of people on the group volunteered to help in whatever way they could to support the Leibowitz family.

“It has been totally overwhelming, I have run out of fridge and freezer space,” said a heartbroken Andrew Leibowitz this week.

He and his two daughters, 14 and 11, are reeling from shock. “The girls and I don’t have much of an appetite at the moment, so I have tried to turn some meals away, but this hasn’t stopped caring people – strangers – from arriving with parcels, crafts, and things to take the girls’ mind off their sorrow,” he said.

Parents from King David Linksfield, where his one daughter goes to school, and the Edenvale Shul have rallied in support, he said.

He said the whole family had contracted the virus. “My wife tested positive last Monday. On Tuesday, Hatzolah became worried about her oxygen levels and she was taken by ambulance to hospital. By Friday, she was in intensive care (ICU) and on Saturday, she passed away.

“Nothing takes the pain away, but knowing that there are so many caring people out there has really helped. I’m blown away by the love and support,” he said.

For some, the only way to tackle the rising tide of pain and suffering is to help. Their kindness has been noted.

Said one woman on the COVID Care WhatsApp group last week, “My son and I have COVID-19. Today was a horrific day as we lost our nanny to COVID-19. I feel awful physically and emotionally. I wanted to let you all know what it meant to hear the doorbell, and receive the meal for supper tonight. It’s one less thing to think about. One less worry. Today of all days you have no idea the impact the kind gestures have on those who are suffering.”

Inspired by these random acts of kindness, people have made cupcakes and other confectionery for healthcare workers at hospitals and for Hatzolah. Kosher restaurants and establishments, many overcome with their own mounting problems following further COVID-19 restrictions, have discounted their prices for those affected by the virus, dropped their delivery fees, and even donated meals and cakes.

People have organised suppers and non-perishable goods for waiters and other staff who lost their jobs this week following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s stricter lockdown measures.

Challah2Share, an organisation started before COVID-19 by Johannesburg mother Kelita Hoffman, has delivered challahs to every household listed on the COVID Care Group.

Last week, Jodi Maron delivered 10 challahs in the Sandton area, all of which were donated by people in the community. “There is overflowing kindness and care as people really want to help and make a difference by paying it forward,” she said.

“This is the best community in the world,” said Lauren Hymanson, who together with a small team of volunteers have arranged meals for families doubly afflicted with financial hardship and COVID-19.

A simple online post by her earlier this week informing the community about many families in distress led to countless offers of help.

In isolation herself after her son tested positive for the virus, Hymanson has managed to co-ordinate countless meals for many families, all online.

“There are some very sick people in our community, and many who don’t have the resources and finances to organise or shop for meals. The community has been incredible in terms of donations and offers to help,” she said.

Lisa Fine and her husband Rowan said they wouldn’t have coped without the COVID Community Care initiative.

After contracting the virus, the couple were admitted to hospital with encephalitis. They were put into ICU in different wards at the same hospital, and forced to leave their two young children in the care of their nanny, Polite Mare, who ran their household in their absence.

“My family live overseas, and my husband’s mother is elderly. Close cousins were also in isolation with COVID-19, so we literally didn’t have a choice. Polite looked after my son of two and my daughter of six day and night. She must have received 20 calls a day from the care group offering to help with everything from Zoom school lessons to meals. She managed everything from online learning, deliveries, meals, and bedtimes. Our fridge is still full of food. There are no words to describe how grateful we are,” Fine said.

Those in a position to help after recuperating or after having spent 10 days in isolation have been inspired to jump on board with offers of their own.

“Everyone has to help each other. It’s a small community with a big heart. For me, it’s just my way of paying it forward,” said Hymanson.

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