FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Recent months have taught us invaluable lessons about the importance of essential workers, and not just the healthcare professionals serving on the frontlines, but also the grocers, gas station attendants, and so many others keeping society ticking.
But it’s also important to remember that you don’t need to be an essential worker to play your part. Sometimes it’s the smallest acts of kindness that can make all the difference, and while we may need to keep our distance from neighbors, friends, and family right now, we can still be there for them.
That’s the lesson that was learned at a Shaw’s Supermarket in Warwick, R.I., back in late March, when a community came together to show us that a series of small actions can lead to a big outcome.
A call came in to the Warwick Police Department the evening of Friday, March 27. It was Westbay Community Action – an organization that offers assistance with food, utilities, and other essentials – alerting the department to a situation that required a well-being check.
An 87-year-old woman named Marie and her disabled son, Carl, were without food, but Westbay wouldn’t be able to help until Monday, leaving them in a bind for the weekend.
Officer Jill Marshall, who works with the department’s Community Services Division and who had responded to similar calls in the past, offered to visit Marie and her son.
“I had heard the call come in and I wasn’t dispatched to it,” Marshall said. “It’s funny now thinking about it but one of the dispatchers said, ‘Isn’t Jill working?’ because he knew that would be something that I would want to jump on. So I volunteered to go.”
When Officer Marshall – wearing a mask and gloves for the safety of Marie and Carl – arrived at the home and introduced herself, she noticed that Marie had an extensive grocery list and asked if she could take a look.
“She handed it to me and I went through it, and it was much bigger than I thought it was going to be,” said Marshall. “She needed shampoo, detergent, food – everything in the market.”
Marie had cash and offered it to Officer Marshall several times, but having overheard Carl mention to Marie that it was the last of their money, Marshall refused the cash and said she’d handle it – whether through a donation from the store or with her own funds, if necessary.
Upon arriving at Shaw’s, Officer Marshall approached a manager to explain the situation and procured a $25 donation from the store. And that’s when something special happened.
Having overheard Officer Marshall telling Marie’s story to the Shaw’s manager, a shopper approached to pitch in $20 of his own money to help cover the cost of the groceries.
“I could feel myself blushing because I was so surprised by it,” said Marshall. “It was very kind.”
But the kindness didn’t stop there. Another shopper offered $20 more as Officer Marshall walked through the aisles, before a pair of Shaw’s employees approached to say they wanted to contribute, as well.
The donations from Shaw’s, two employees, and two shoppers were enough to cover everything on Marie’s grocery list.
“I would’ve hugged each and every one of them, but I knew I couldn’t,” said Marshall. “I was able to get every single thing off that list, down to the cat food, because of what everybody contributed.
“It was so heartwarming. It was more heartwarming at this time because I know there’s so many people without work right now. They’re either getting laid off, or they’re waiting to apply for unemployment. I know financially it’s difficult for people, so to have that generosity, it melted my heart.
“It was just a wonderful community, just people having each other’s backs during this time. They didn’t even ask me much about it. All they knew was I was shopping for an elderly woman who didn’t have food for the weekend. That was it. They didn’t know anything else.”
When Officer Marshall returned to drop off the groceries with Marie and Carl, they were beside themselves with appreciation.
“She actually called (the police department),” said Marshall. “If you could hear her voice, it’s adorable. I mean, she’s in her 80s. She called headquarters and spoke to a dispatcher, and said she couldn’t express her gratitude anymore.
“The dispatcher called me at the end of my shift and told me, and I said you know what, that made my whole night. Because I could just picture them putting away all the things and feeling secure and safe. Their basic needs were met, which is the humane thing to do, right?”
For Officer Marshall – and everyone who donated at Shaw’s – that was the bottom line. Once they knew that an elderly woman and her disabled son were without food for the weekend, they stepped up to help. Because that’s what people do in a humane society.
“I can’t imagine going to this house, them not having anything, and me not doing something about it,” Marshall said. “How do you say, ‘Sorry, you’ve got to wait until Monday?’ That’s just not humane. I just can’t even imagine doing that. I would’ve paid for the entire thing myself.
“I’ve done this before and I would do it again. I’d do it tomorrow if this came up.”
You don’t need to be a healthcare worker to play your part in helping society right now (although we’re eternally grateful for the efforts and sacrifices of those who are). You don’t even need to be a police officer or a grocery store employee.
You just have to be a good neighbor, a good friend, a good son or daughter, and help when you can.
“It’s so important, and it’s so simple,” said Marshall. “Just leave a note. If you know your neighbors are elderly, or they’re struggling and they’re not working, it’s so easy to just write a little note with your phone number saying, ‘Please call me. I’m here.’ It’s such a beautiful gesture, and it’s such an easy thing to do.
“We have to remember to be kind. We can’t forget our morals and values. We have to remember to show kindness and compassion.”