Coping Through COVID: Part 1

You would be hard-pressed to think of a time that has directly affected every single member of our local, national and global community more than the coronavirus has, and it is obvious that it will continue to do so for months, even years, to come. The world changed, almost overnight, and suddenly those things that define us—how we eat, socialize, have fun, work, worship, exercise, shop and interact with other humans—have been discarded and replaced by social distancing practices to protect the most vulnerable members of our society.

Yet kindness remains. So does ingenuity, gratitude and the will to survive. Here is a small sampling of stories about the unique ways some of our community members coped. This is Part 1 of a series of stories that will appear here on lebomag.com and in our June 2020 magazine. Please share your stories with us in the comments below.

 
The Class of 2020 is proud to announce that they raised $8,000, which is 40,000 meals, for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank during Seniors’ Blue and Gold Spirit Week, the week of April 20. Seniors also purchased yard signs designed by the Baverso Family, and all sign proceeds went directly to the food bank. Pictured above: Cameron Baverso (Jonquil Place) and Jonathan Izzo (Woodhaven Drive)
Allison Carey and her daughters Lauren and Amelia

Twice the impact

When the stay-at-home orders began in March, friends Stephanie Fedro-Byrom, Park Entrance Drive, Annie Skiba, Tampa Avenue, and Allison Carey, Main Entrance Drive, got the idea to donate food to the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.

“We weren’t even sure we would be able to cover this one meal,” says Fedro-Byrom. “Our intent was to provide some comfort and assistance to local organizations who serve the most vulnerable populations who are even more at risk now … at the same time, we wanted to support local restaurants who are also facing an uncertain future.”

So the friends posted on various community boards on Facebook, asking for donations, and the response was incredible. Within an hour, they raised $350 to provide boxed lunches from Lebo Subs and Betsy’s Ice Cream for 50, including residents, children and staff.

Since then, they have raised more than $12,000, which has provided more than 1,500 meals to six charities, while supporting 17 local restaurants. On top of that, they made an additional $650 donation to the South Hills Interfaith Movement and provided 31 Easter baskets to the children at the shelter.

This donation to Meals on Wheels fed dozens of neighbors in need.

“We ask the restaurants to charge us what they normally would, since the purpose is to support them. We are certain, however, that they have all been giving us a bit of a discount and an astounding amount of food,” says Fedro-Byrom. “Gianna Via’s [in Whitehall] insisted on providing a free traditional Easter dinner to the shelter.”

Other beneficiaries of this project include Meals on Wheels, Bethlehem Haven, Sojourner House and Ronald McDonald House. Of the 17 restaurants providing the meals, 14 have been in Mt. Lebanon.

“We have been organizing it, but it is our Lebo community that has made it possible,” says Fedro-Byrom. “It has really been an honor to be a part of something like this, to feel like we are making at least a small difference at a time when we feel so helpless.”

 

Easing the Strain

Maybe you’ve seen the viral post about the boy scout in Vancouver, Canada, who started 3D printing ear guards for hospital workers who wear masks all day. Well Greyson Byrom, Mt. Lebanon freshman and son of Stephanie Fedro-Byrom (mentioned above), saw it, and immediately set his 3D printer to work.

“It is not difficult at all, and I encourage anyone with a 3D printer available to do so,” says Byrom. “All you need is the printer, filament, and a free model [found online]. I also want to mention that I wear gloves and a mask while handling them, and they are placed in a sealed bag during storage and when being delivered.”

At first, Byrom could only print one at a time, making it a very slow process, but he searched the internet and found a smaller model that allows him to print six simultaneously. So far, he’s made more than 100 ear guards.

“I’m giving them to anyone who would like one, although a special priority is given to healthcare and emergency response workers, and those who have an essential job who must come into contact with others frequently,” says Byrom.

Printing the ear guards helps ease the disappointment of school closing early. “We didn’t know that the day we left would be our last, so nobody made a big deal out of it like we usually do on the last day of school,” says Byrom.

He was also looking forward to getting his first job this summer, and he had only just received his work permit when all the business closures took effect—making official employment an unlikely prospect for him. That’s when his mother had the idea for him to start a curb-painting business.

“I took the idea and ran with it,” says Byrom. “There is no contact needed, especially now with online payment … And there is a need. Many people don’t have their house numbers clearly visible, which not only makes it hard for mailmen and women to find the house, it can also make it difficult for emergency services to know where the house is in the event that something happens.

Byrom charges $20 per project, and half of it goes to the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank. He has raised more than $300, providing 1,500 meals to people in need.

It might not have been the summer job he envisioned, but it’s working for him for now.

 
Persephone Bread

Baking bread

“What will the restaurant industry even look like after this? How will they get by if they have to maintain a six-foot distance? What will the business model look like?”

Zeke Reed, Mt. Lebanon Class of 2011, asks himself these questions because he knows he will need to re-formulate his two-year plan to find a brick-and-mortar location for his popup restaurant, Persephone. Before COVID-19, Persephone operated inside R Wine Cellar Urban Winery in the Strip District, which is owned by the Russell family on Osage Road.

“We’re only [eight] months old, but our goal is to make foods that are accessible, ethical and local,” says Reed. “Imagine fine dining where you don’t have to Google what an ingredient is.”

While his vision for Persephone was temporarily put on hold, Reed knew that others—particularly within the hospitality community—were feeling the pain of the pandemic through lost wages, jobs and job security. He wanted to help.

“I can’t control stay-at-home orders. I can’t control how much money people are getting for unemployment. But I know how to make bread, and I can deliver it to people who need it,” says Reed.

His first delivery day was on March 30, and it started with just a few loaves that he baked in his parents’ kitchen on Castle Shannon Boulevard. Now, he’s delivering to an average of 32 households each week, using 65 pounds of flour, and he’s well over 100 loaves since this began. He has had many people try to give him donations for the loaves, but he directs all donations to the Community Kitchen of Pittsburgh.

“Bread is just flour, salt and water,” says Reed. Since he has relationships with distributors in the area who are giving him a good price for flour, he feels like he does not need the money—and that it will make a larger impact elsewhere. “Aside from the cost of ingredients, I do the baking myself. I have someone helping me deliver … and making sure we get peoples’ orders.”

For this project, Reed is making two types of bread: sourdough and brioche. People can submit their orders at persephonepgh@gmail.com. They are allowed up to two loaves per household, and Reed makes deliveries once a week, usually on Mondays.

As to whether he will continue doing this after the pandemic, Reed is considering some version of this program for Persephone. For example, he may create a menu option where people can add a nominal amount to their bill to have fresh loaves delivered to someone in need.

“If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that helping each other is the only way we are going to get through this,” says Reed. “In the end, I would love for people to see Persephone as a place of community, where people can ask for help and get it. But none of that matters if people don’t get through this.”


Check out the other stories in this series, plus more on COVID-19 from our bloggers, past issues and Mt. Lebanon municipal departments.

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