All of a sudden one week in March, things changed across the Merrimack Valley. Schools closed their doors, churches were forced to forego weekly worship, and residents ran to the supermarket in hopes of snagging enough toilet paper to last for 14 days or more.
Chaos largely reigned during that early pandemic quarantine period before the coronavirus brought phrases like “social distancing” and “you’re on mute” into daily conversation. Once the initial shock wore off, however, the concept of neighbors helping neighbors adjust to the new normal remained.
“I remember at the beginning of the pandemic, hearing that nurses at Lawrence General (Hospital) needed masks and I couldn’t sleep that night,” said Darcie Nuttall, a therapist who lives in North Andover. Soon after, Nuttall said, she began making masks and distributing them for free outside her home for anyone in need.
“I run a sewing business called Pillows and Things, so sewing was already my thing,” she said. “People were desperate. I remember one woman who took a mask and took one for her son who was immuno-suppressed. It was so stressful then, but it ended up being amazing. I met people that had never sewn wanted to get involved, and they did. That was so inspiring to me.”
Nuttall is among the throngs of people who began finding ways to help practically, and to lift people’s spirits.
Sometimes, the acts of kindness were extra cool.
In December, Batman himself cruised over to Lawrence General Hospital on behalf of The Kindness Collaborative, a network of locals inspired to do acts of goodwill. The superhero was delivering 100 handmade Christmas stockings filled with self-care goodies for COVID-19 frontline workers.
And of course, there were all those tributes to first responders and healthcare professionals, who put themselves and their loved ones at risk every day to help the masses infected by the virus.
Nuttall is part of The Kindness Collaborative, a partnership between community members, local businesses, and charitable organizations that was founded back in March by Andover resident Alex Bromberg. She and Bromberg, along with Carmen Frias-Interrante of Methuen and Melissa Marrama of Andover, network across the region to help others one good deed at a time. Much of their time is spent inspiring children to volunteer.
When locals wanted to volunteer but weren’t sure where to start, Lazarus House in Lawrence — a city hit particularly hard by the pandemic — was happy to receive their gifts.
“We saw neighbors helping neighbors every day,” Executive Director Jeff Hassel said. “On Wednesdays, our food pantry supplies food for 1,200 families, but a number of our regular guests are particularly at risk for COVID and can’t come out to receive food. Neighbors will pick up a bag for them and deliver it. The same thing occurs in our soup kitchen.”
Lazarus House, which recently renovated its Holly Street shelter to accommodate families, also shares with other non-profits and emergency city shelters, Hassel said.
“When they have need, we give what we can,” he added.
For all the destruction the pandemic has caused, Nuttall said she still looks back and sees the good.
“I’m lucky. I have a job, my husband has a job, and my kids are adjusting OK,” she said. “I want to be able to have my kids remember this time in history and remember that people were on our porch (with The Kindness Collaborative) volunteering. I want them to remember all the kindness that I’ve seen.”