“Please let the kindness stop so that I can keep up with all of this writing!” I typed in distress to my coworker, who had just sent me three more stories of goodwill that she found on Facebook, to be included in this “Coping through COVID” series. But the kindness didn’t stop—I received stories up until the moment of my deadline, we’ve had many more since then, and I suspect the stories will continue until this pandemic is over.
And every single one of them is important.
As you can see, this is Part 2 of a multi-part series—some will appear in our print magazine, others, like this one, are here on lebomag.com, and we’ve got even more of them our social media. We invite you to, please, share your stories with us. Either below in the comments, or by sending us an email. If you’re a Mt. Lebanon resident, we want to hear about the pet you adopted, the neighbor you delivered food to, the special project you started and the unique hobby you’ve mastered during this time. Because we could all use some good news right now, no?
Did you know that Rosie the Riveter was born here in Pittsburgh? Westinghouse Electric hired artist J. Howard Miller to design inspiring images for its women workers in 1942. He created 42 posters total, but the famous “We Can Do It!” image survived the test of time and would later become a feminist symbol.
“She is an iconic symbol of a strong woman, and we really wanted everyone to recognize that staying home was an act of incredible strength. So we came up with ‘Stay at Home Hero!’” says Karen Krieger, Holly Lane, who worked with her husband, David Montgomery, to design inspirational stickers featuring the famous Rosie the Riveter image wearing a mask.
“We added the mask, the wine and the television remote. We hoped they would resonate with an audience and also bring a little humor to the bleakness,” says Krieger. She and Montgomery are both artists, so they wanted to do something creative to give back—beyond the masks they were already sewing and giving away. “We also wanted something that would tangibly mark this weird moment in time,” she says.
They decided to sell their stickers at 2 for $5. They spread the word via social media that they would be taking orders via PayPal, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Venmo, kkmetals, and orders started pouring in. So far, they have raised more than $700, which they split and donated to the South Hills Interfaith Movement and the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
“We’d like to double that amount,” says Krieger, “COVID-19 has hit everyone hard, but especially the food insecure. The pandemic has made their situation worse.”
Experts are already debating whether we will see a baby boom in nine months, as a generation of “Coronials” or ‘Baby Zoomers” enter the world. Regardless, families already appear to be growing thanks to COVID-19, because people are finally making the move to adopt that pet they have always dreamed of, but haven’t had the time to train.
“We decided now would be the best time so the kids could help train a new puppy,” says Kristine Sorensen Griffin, who brought home a miniature golden doodle named Rosie a couple weeks into the stay-at-home order. “She has made this unusual time much more fun … she brings us so much joy every day.”
Amy Martin, Magnolia Place, went a slightly different route and adopted a kitten for her freshman daughter, Chloe, to help ease the disappointment of the school year being cancelled. “She finally got the kitten she has asked for every Christmas since first grade,” says Amy, who rescued Winston from a cat-hoarder house he shared with 28 other adult cats. “Chloe has plenty of time to care for his every infant need, and he gives her the unconditional love, affection and entertainment she is missing from having to keep all her friends and extended family at a distance during the pandemic. It is a purrfect match!”
Love from Lebo
If you left your home for any reason from April 13 to 17, you could not have missed the fact that things were a bit more colorful around town. Led by the school district’s elementary art teachers—Paula Cherian (Markham), Katie Switzer (Jefferson and Foster), Garrett Hain (Howe and Hoover), Jill Majestic (Lincoln) and Jodi McKeever (Washington)—Mt. Lebanon’s first through fifth grade students gathered their chalk, craft supplies and other household items to spread a united message of #LoveFromLebo.
“The elementary art teachers plan together a lot, and that hasn’t changed with distanced learning,” says McKeever. Although they haven’t necessarily been teaching the same curriculum each week since online learning began on April 6, “#LOVEfromLEBO was definitely a collaboration. Each of us had an idea we contributed, and we’re all so proud of how it turned out!”
They took inspiration from former Pittsburgh Steeler Baron Batch, who has earned a name for himself in the street art scene since his retirement from football. They created a lesson plan around the history of street art, using Batch’s active Instagram profile as an example, which culminated in the students creating their own pieces for the community to enjoy.
“Street art is just something that can be seen outside, that’s meant to make people happy. We told kids to make drawings and hang them in their windows, paint a rock, create chalk art, things like that,” says McKeever. “But kids came up with some of their own ideas. One did a light display. We saw lots of collages in windows.”
To get credit for the project, students simply had to upload a picture of their art to a shared drive, but McKeever noted that many students emailed theirs to her, because they wanted to chat about them.
The requirements were different for each grade level, depending on what they already covered in class: first graders focused on lines, so their project had to have a rainbow in it; second grade had to use a geometric shape; third graders had to use their knowledge of space to include overlapping shapes; fourth grade had to stick to a color scheme; and fifth grade needed to include an inspirational message.
While #LoveFromLebo was a combined project in the second week of online learning, each teacher has their own unique set of lesson plans. Cherian taught a unit on Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti, where she employed mindfulness practices and calming exercises to enhance the lesson. Similarly, McKeever created a land art project inspired by Andy Goldsworthy, where students find materials in nature and arrange them into art.
“Each week, after we give our lesson, we also have optional things,” says McKeever. “For the #LoveFromLebo unit, there was a Baron Batch history video the students could watch. One family loved it so much that they went to the South Side and found some of his pieces.”
At the end of the street art unit, McKeever tagged Batch on the #LoveFromLebo posts on Instagram and Twitter. The students were delighted when he responded with a smiley face.
“You cannot substitute having kids in the classroom. But we have had fun with the challenge of coming up with activities using materials outside of what the kids would have in class,” says McKeever. “The kids have enjoyed it. And they have learned so much technology that we will all use when we come back from this.”
Easter, Passover, Ramadan, Memorial Day—these are just some of the holidays that people had to celebrate in various states of lockdown this year. In spite of that, many people decorated their homes, sent digital tidings of goodwill to their neighbors and organized to spread cheer to friends and those in need.
Knowing that teachers and staff were having a difficult time adjusting to student-less classrooms, empty buildings and a digital workplace, Mellon School assistant principal Benjamin Canan dropped off Easter treat bags to every Mellon employee over spring break.
“The bags included individualized notes,” says Kathryn Duchin, coordinator of middle level gifted support services at Mellon and Jefferson Middle School. “The emails of gratitude have been ongoing as each person finds their bag … He made every person feel special.”
Erin Rhodes, a marketing and communications manager at Auberle, a McKeesport-based charity dedicated to serving foster children and those in need, eagerly responded to our call for stories to tell us about a Mt. Lebanon-based volunteer, Judy Sombar, who also decided to deliver Easter treats, and had to get creative to meet her goal.
“Originally, Judy and her neighbors planned to assemble customized Easter baskets for each of our youth … but COVID-19 changed all that and also created a whole other set of challenges for Judy and her family,” says Rhodes. “Nonetheless, Judy came through with gift cards and an abundance of chocolate and candy which were dispersed to our youth so they’d have it on Easter morning!”
With help from the Women’s Club of Mt. Lebanon and many community volunteers, Sombar, her family and neighbors donated 150 Target Gift Cards (at $20 each), candy and books to the children Auberle serves. Sombar, who is immunocompromised and struggles with anxiety and depression—a fact that was documented in multiple stories by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette—managed to organize this while moving to an Airbnb to protect herself and her family from the virus.
“Judy’s story of giving back is just one of many we are seeing during the pandemic,” says Rhodes. “But what makes it especially remarkable to me is that Judy was capable of pushing through her pain to keep her Easter promise to the children of Auberle.”