Griffin Brody walks up the front steps of the little house off North Davidson Street, gently sets the three bags of groceries on the doorstep, knocks twice and retreats to his black Mercedes-Benz SUV.
“Someone reached out, said their elderly grandparent needed assistance. I was happy to offer that assistance,” says Brody, 23, as he puts the vehicle in drive and pulls away from the curve, never looking back at the house. “I really haven’t taken any steps to verify the people that I’m delivering to, but … if I don’t get paid back, it is what it is. I don’t think this is really the time to be worried [about that].”
What has been worrying him?
The current plight of the area’s older and retired, a population believed to be among the most at-risk as the global coronavirus pandemic starts to try to gain a foothold in and around Charlotte, North Carolina — and a population that is struggling to decide how safe it is to venture out to a crowded grocery store.
'Let me help'
So on March 12, Brody — a 2019 University of Tennessee graduate who moved to Charlotte last August to work for Cornelius-based startup PetScreening as part of a fellowship offered by Venture for America — made a short and sweet post on the social news website Reddit: “Please, if you or anyone you know needs errands run for them, completely free, let me help. I will run any errand regardless of [how] menial. I lost my grandmother and grandfather this year and do not want anyone else to have to if they can help it.”
When he logged on again on next morning, he had no requests for deliveries yet — probably, he admits, because few if any of the people in the demographic he’d like to help are on Reddit. But he says he had close to 20 messages from other Reddit users offering to help him fulfill delivery requests.
Someone also suggested he try posting to Nextdoor. Brody hadn’t heard of it.
“Nextdoor is kind of a local Facebook, mostly for boomers,” the person said. “If you are looking to help local seniors, it is absolutely the spot, because everyone would know everyone on a local level.”
It worked. His phone started buzzing. And by the end of the day, he’d made three runs, including one to Cornelius. On March 14, one of his deliveries took him from the house he shares with two roommates in NoDa all the way up to Mooresville, a 60-mile round trip. The cost of the grocery order wasn’t even $50.
One older gentleman, Brody says, contacted him just looking for someone to talk to; he met him for coffee at Amelie’s on March 14. Another person asked him if he’d go to Lowe’s and pick up nails for them. Just nails. Brody obliged.
As nearly always happens when civilization shows signs of unraveling, negative things happen. In this case, some of it is annoying and perplexing, like toilet paper shortages at stores. Some of it, meanwhile, is appalling, like those guys the New York Times wrote about who bought all the hand sanitizer they could find across two states and started price-gouging online.
But it’s not hard to find people out there doing good for one another, if you look for it.
In Gastonia, there’s a Little Free Library behind Ashbrook High School that is being stocked right now not with books, but with food “for those who find themselves in need.” (“If you know of a child who doesn’t have the transportation, please private message us and we will make arrangements to get some food to them,” wrote Katie Houser Sims, who tends to the library.)
Inspired by Twitter post
Brody says part of what motivated him was seeing posts on Twitter from a woman, named Rebecca Mehra, who was on her way into a grocery store in Bend, Oregon, when she heard an older woman yelling to her through a barely-cracked car window. The woman in the car was nearly in tears, afraid to go in; she asked Mehra if she’d shop for her, Mehra said yes, so the woman gave Mehra $100 and a list and Mehra did the good deed.
“I know it’s a time of hysteria and nerves, but offer to help anyone you can,” Mehra wrote.
Brody, in fact, says he encountered a similar situation at the Publix near his office in Cornelius: He saw an older woman crying in the store — “she was overwhelmed and terrified to touch everything. [But] I was too timid and did not offer to help, and it ate me up. I wanted to help as many people as I could.”
Before long, he made his initial offer on Reddit.
Now? He wants to fill his free time with deliveries. (“What else am I gonna do? Otherwise I’d be bored because everything’s closed down. This way, I’m not bored.”) He’s reached out to more than 100 religious institutions — churches, temples, mosques — and told them to point their elderly in his direction. (If a flood of requests come in, that’s fine, he says, because he has nearly four dozen people in the area who have offered to help him.)
So far, Brody says, he hasn’t collected money for the groceries he’s bought. And while he certainly hopes that he’ll get reimbursed, like he said — ultimately, it’s not about the money.
“I’ve lost both grandparents in the last 12 months … and it was difficult,” he says, as he stands outside a supermarket. “I mean, I loved my grandparents as much as anyone in the world. So it was hard, and I really — if I can do anything to stop someone from having to go through that sooner than they would normally have to, I would like to. … I hope that, at least, this pandemic sort of gets people talking to their grandparents a little bit more. … I kept pushing off just sending a text or a call, and then, of course, it was too late.
“So I hope this gives people a little bit more time to cherish their loved ones.”
Then he smiles, politely excuses himself and hurries off to help another person in need.