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Crowdsourcing kindness

 

A Presbyterian pastor in Oregon says her role in the online group Pandemic Partners is ‘to cheer the community on’

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Morgan Schmidt, founder of Pandemic Partners, is associate pastor of teens and 20-somethings at First Presbyterian Church in Bend, Oregon. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Morgan Schmidt serves First Presbyterian Church in Bend, Oregon, as the associate pastor of teens and 20-somethings. When she launched the Facebook site Pandemic Partners on March 12, little did she know the extraordinary impact that using crowdsourcing to help fill some of the needs brought on by the coronavirus would have on her Central Oregon community of about 98,000.

“The magic of this,” she said, “is the crowdsourcing of kindness — making it happen as people rise to their best selves in a weird time that feels dark. It has been a privilege to watch, to see a community set loose like this. It gives people an easy way to connect and care for each other.”

By posting how-to guides on its Facebook page, Pandemic Partners, located in the Presbytery of the Cascades, has taken hold in about 18 other communities, with another 15 or so preparing to launch. In the Bend area, which including the nearby community of Redmond has nearly 200,000 residents, about 10,500 people have joined Pandemic Partners.  “Anybody who wants to start out (a new chapter), I just invite them into the group and make sure they have a launch kit,” Schmidt said. “We give it away as fast as possible, because we have seen how powerful it is in our community.”

Pandemic Partners is all about people with a specific need identifying their need online and then connecting with someone who can meet that need. Examples about, Schmidt said. A man who manages a senior apartment complex said in a post that coronavirus had put an end to communal dining for about 45 residents, who for the time being are eating their meals alone in their apartments — many of which didn’t have dining room tables. How many Bend-area residents, he wondered, had a TV tray or two they could donate?

“Within hours,” Schmidt said, “they had what they needed and more.”

“There are many people who can’t start a nonprofit or make a big donation. But they can get groceries for their neighbor,” she said. “There are acts of kindness within the power of all of us.”

A Bend woman wanted to mail a breast pump to her sister who was preparing to deliver her baby. But the woman found she didn’t have the money to ship the gift to her sister. Not only did someone come forward to cover the shipment — but she was a former lactation specialist who included other helpful materials in the package before shipping it to the woman’s sister.

“No one is an expert on what is happening, so we’re making things up as we go as best we can,” Schmidt said. “People are cared for by the community, and others have agency in a world that feels so uncertain. That is a powerful combination.”

Here’s what Pandemic Partners does, according to its website:

  • Enables neighbors in need to ask for help with timely, tangible needs.
  • Enables neighbors who can help to respond.
  • Provides support for vulnerable community members .
  • Collaborates with a central website (com) that hosts nonprofit volunteer opportunities and ways to donate locally to the pandemic effort.
  • Maintains a database of volunteers willing to help their neighbors with timely, tangible needs.
  • Advocates for social service providers, nonprofits and local government to build and maintain an updateable Community Resources document that is available to the public
  • Provides a hub for reliable, updated information and resources.
  • Is a conduit for questions about needs and how to self-support needs provided through community forum responses.

Schmidt said that until recently launching Pandemic Partners and helping others replicate the approach in their community meant 18-hour days. Pandemic Partners chapters are now operational in large communities including Denver, Seattle and San Antonio, as well as in more rural communities in Minnesota and other states.

“The ‘crowdsourcing kindness’ phrase is deeply true,” she said. “I may have created a virtual meeting place, but I’m not doing any of the magic myself,” although she does allow to dropping off “one thermometer to a mom who needed it.”

Before she knocks off for the night, Schmidt says “goodnight” to the online community.

“If feels like I’m pastoring in the sneakiest way,” she said. “I get to say, ‘Good job! You are bringing hope during desperate circumstances.’”

In seminary, Schmidt took a course of study in the Parish Collective, a “global movement of Christians reimagining what it means to be the church in, with and for the neighborhood,” according to the Parish Collective website.

“That is etched into me,” she said. “I think the main point of a church community is to be the Good News in the larger community.”


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