Orders to stay home leave many people glued to their screens. In Bend, some people are turning their time on social media into tangible help for neighbors coping with coronavirus.

“I never thought I would say this, but we’re using Facebook to express love to our neighbors in really meaningful ways,” said Morgan Schmidt, moderator of a group for Bend residents, where housebound people can crowdsource help with daily tasks.

“One of our first requests … was a gentleman who just said, ‘I’m immuno-compromised. I don’t want to go into Safeway. Can I have someone run in and grab my groceries and put them in my trunk?’” Schmidt recalled.

Her days blur together since that first post in Pandemic Partners - Bend. Normally, she’s a Presbyterian pastor. As the state banned gatherings and shuttered schools to try and slow the spread of coronavirus, her church also closed. She’s pivoted to full time social media manager. Her Facebook group exploded overnight.

“I would comfortably say we have thousands of people ready to help,” Schmidt said.

One person who asked for help is Mary Sheridan, who’s been at home with two kids ever since she came down with a fever and a cough. They haven’t been tested for coronavirus, as those tests are still largely inaccessible in Oregon.

“So I’m trying to stay informed, but not freak out, especially since … I’m sick, and people I have been in contact with have gotten sick, too,” Sheridan said. 

When her digital thermometer died recently, Sheridan posted to Pandemic Partners.

“Within an hour, I had actually two different people stop by with batteries,” she said.

She also has a new list of people who live nearby, and want to help if she needs it. 

Diane Murray Fleck posted a selfie after cooking and delivering meals for Pandemic Partners with her daughter Molly. 

Diane Murray Fleck posted a selfie after cooking and delivering meals for Pandemic Partners with her daughter Molly. 

Courtesy of Diane Murray Fleck

Fellow group member Diane Murray Fleck said she and her family were feeling well, but the posts made her more aware of what others are struggling with behind closed doors. 

“We have to balance protecting ourselves, but also not lose our humanity,” she said.

Ten people accepted her offer to drop dinner off recently: “Moms home with young kids.. another woman ordered a meal for me to deliver to her elderly mother. A gentleman was a diabetic and wanted a home cooked meal… And someone else nominated another family that they knew was very quietly challenged and probably not going to reach out for themselves.”

At each stop, she threw in a “roll of toilet paper with the garlic bread and the lasagna, just as a joke.” 

The deed helped her and her 12-year-old daughter deal with their own anxieties: “the fact that there was still something we could do for others, and be safe at the same time,” Fleck said. 

Bend’s Facebook group for neighborly goodwill also gets inundated with posts seeking medical advice. Moderators refer them to doctors.

For Schmidt, the Presbyterian pastor, responding to other messages has been heartrendingly difficult.

“We’ve had a couple of questions from people who are like, ‘I’m sick and I am waiting for a test to come back and I don’t have housing right now,’” she said.

Morgan Schmidt has created resources for people who want to replicate a Pandemic Partners group in their community.

Morgan Schmidt has created resources for people who want to replicate a Pandemic Partners group in their community.

Courtesy of Dave Felton

Finding housing in Bend is tough, even when someone isn’t sick. Schmidt connects the people with housing needs to social workers, while her group has focused on acts of kindness that are most easily crowdsourced: errands, groceries, dog walks.

“These are bite-sized ways of responding that actually make a world of difference,” she said.