By Sherry DiBari

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"

This quote by Fred Rogers, from the television show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, can be applied to those in the Old Dominion University community. Numerous faculty, staff and students have volunteered, organized and donated to help others during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Donations of medical supplies have come from many sources, including a College of Health Sciences donation of masks and gloves to Lake Taylor Transitional Hospital and Jimmy Black, an engineering alum, whose company BBG Inc., contributed of a case of N95 masks to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.

Students and faculty from the Batten College of Engineering & Technology, as well as individuals in other departments, like Assistant Professor Brittany Samulski in the physical therapy program, have been furiously 3D printing masks and shields for healthcare workers.

For people who are isolated at home, other helpers have provided virtual activities in topics like exercise, art and music.

Director Kimberly Williamson and the staff at ODU's Children's and Learning Research Center (CLRC) have virtually connected with children and parents by providing daily activities.

"Teachers and staff wanted to find ways to let families know that we are still here and provide support and activities to help engage young children while at home," Williamson said.

"We are in the midst of a pandemic, and for young children their world suddenly became completely different and a bit scary overnight. Daily activities from the teachers help children stay connected and reassures them that some things are still the same. We are doing things differently, but your teacher, friends and activities are still here so that we can do things together."

The activities can all be done at home or in the neighborhood. One recent activity involved spelling the child's name with things found in nature.

"They are my saving grace right now," said parent Emily Kittleson, assistant to the AVP for distance learning.

Others in the ODU community have helped by giving blood, ordering takeout and delivery from local restaurants and with monetary donations to the "Rise to the Challenge Fund" that assists Monarchs in need.

One ODU "Helper" who was been featured in the news is T.J. Thompson, an ODU humanities graduate student and alum '17. Thompson helped to organize CoronaAid757, a group delivering groceries and medical supplies to elderly and compromised residents. They also help with mental-health checks.

CoronaAid757 was created by Norfolk resident Nick Newbold, who reached out to local community organizers, including Thompson. Thompson, long involved in advocacy, had experience organizing with the Poor People's Campaign, the local chapter of Food Not Bombs and Mutual Aid Disaster Relief.

Thompson's work experience and time in the Navy, coupled with his communication degree, which focused on digital public relations and advocacy, have proven helpful.

He has held several roles at CoronaAid757, including screening phone calls, coordinating runners, receiving and distributing donations, as well as messaging, outreach and mobilizing volunteers.

The response from those needing help has been "overwhelming and appreciative," Thompson said. The requesters, who include "elderly, single mothers and medically compromised, are reaching out requesting groceries, toiletries, cleaning supplies, medications and many other errands. We also have people reaching out who need someone to talk to and keep them company," he said.

The Facebook page set up for CoronaAid757 has more than 800 members. Posts show how critical the needs are. One person posted: "I am in desperate need of help. Recently diagnosed with lupus, fibromyalgia & seizures. I need my meds, food, toiletries."

Thompson said the reaction from volunteers for CoronaAid757 has been one of the "largest outpourings of community I have seen as a lifelong resident of Chesapeake and the Hampton Roads area." More more than 250 have signed up so far.

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