In 2020, Mazda recognized 50 individuals across America for their selfless acts and embodiment of the “challenger spirit” as they cared for others and helped solve problems big and small in their communities. From families learning to make masks on behalf of vulnerable neighbors, to teachers arranging socially distanced visits to lift their students’ spirits — the best of human nature was clear to see from all corners of the country. As many areas begin to reopen, we decided to track down a few of our heroes and find out how their work has continued into 2021.
Healy Chait and Invisible Hands
First, we caught up with NYU student Healy Chait. She’s been so inspired by her volunteering work that she’s switched majors from architecture to business.
In the early days of the pandemic, Healy worried when groceries started to fly off the shelves – who would support the homebound and other vulnerable groups in New York? She searched for a non-profit organization to help provide essential deliveries for these groups. When she realized it didn’t exist, Healy and two fellow students decided to take matters into their own hands. Within days, Invisible Hands was born with the sole mission of picking up and delivering groceries to high-risk senior citizens and other immunocompromised individuals across Manhattan.
Fast forward a year and Invisible Hands has made 15,000 deliveries and have a similar number of volunteers signed up. They’ve just launched an Invisible Hands app to facilitate similar work in other towns and cities and Healy is busy making plans for the future.
“Our work will definitely continue beyond the pandemic. COVID has exacerbated the inequities that already existed and I hope we have become something of a lifeline, but there will still be people who are compromised or homebound,” she said. “Over 25% of New Yorkers don’t know where their next meal is coming from — it’s a shocking fact.”
Kai McKinney and Can’t Stop Columbus
It’s a similar story for 22-year-old industrial design major Kai McKinney, from Columbus, Ohio. Kai, who’s just about to graduate from Ohio State, was the driving force behind a major community movement when COVID struck last Spring. Along with a group of friends, he was determined to make a positive contribution. Starting with a hackathon, they decided to focus on the restaurant industry and food insecurity, and came up with the name “Can’t Stop Columbus.” They launched a Slack channel and website, and amassed 4,000 volunteers.
A year later and Can’t Stop Columbus acts as a central operation where volunteers work together to address the city’s problems – and ones that might lie ahead. The website features countless resources: job portals, information for how to find food and clothing, directions on sending “virtual hugs,” a tip jar to support anybody financially hurt by COVID.
Kai is not stopping there. “We’re looking to expand the scope of the community movement. Firstly, we’re supporting the local vaccination program. There have been a few logistical challenges in Columbus, but one of our teams put together an aggregate site which has helped people find and schedule an appointment very easily,” he said.
“We also supporting a local Artwalk exhibition – art is an important part of the community and we’re keen to give local artists a platform. The car has been incredibly helpful and allowed us to do even more – we’ve got a lot more plans for Columbus.”
Leandro de Araujo Pessoa and the Blessing Box
In Michigan, 30-year-old Leandro de Araujo Pessoa has been busy providing food for the local homeless community and recently clocked up his 500th delivery. His idea was sparked by a “Blessing Box” outside St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in his hometown of Lansing. Originally stocked with library books, Leandro started adding groceries to the box when the pandemic took hold in March 2020 and it has served as a public pantry ever since.
Former hotel worker Leandro picks up the story: “It started pretty small, but I now make daily deliveries — sometimes more than once a day — and I’ve had some great support from friends and neighbors who have either brought food round to my house or delivered it directly to the Blessing Box.
“When I was selected as one of the Mazda Heroes it was a real boost as I was featured on ‘Good Morning America’ in December. On the back of that we generated some great momentum and I set up a TikTok account which clocked up 150,000 views in two days. Lots of people wanted to set up something similar in their own area and whatever happens with the pandemic, I’m planning to continue this project as it seems to have really made an impact.”
Darlene Tenes and the Farming Community
Darlene Tenes has been hitting the road in support of farming communities across California. The event planner, based in San Jose, has arranged seven major Donation Drives where she and a convoy of cars and commercial box trucks have delivered up to 1,000 boxes of groceries and other essential supplies in California.
She has visited Watsonville, Salinas, and Hollister with further trips lined up to Napa Valley, Half Moon Bay and beyond.
“It’s great to deliver these essentials but this also felt like a bright spark for people to try and keep their hopes up during what has been a difficult time,” she said. “We’re working with different partner organisations who are close to the farming communities and that’s important to ensure we’re helping in the best possible way.”
Darlene declined her reward of a Mazda car in favor of a charitable donation to the non-profit organization San Jose Parks Foundation.
Mazda Heroes Drive Forward
Mazda is commited to helping communities, from rebuilding Hiroshima 75 years ago to our Essential Care Car program for healthcare workers in 2020. With COVID-19 continuing to impact the way of life, Mazda employees and its dealer partners have been so moved by the incredible actions people across the country have taken to give back to their communities. It’s fantastic to see their great work continuing into 2021.
Mazda Heroes embody the brand’s values of a challenger spirit, human centricity and ingenious solutions. All of these heroes looked at a need within their community and rallied to find and deliver a solution.
For more on Mazda Heroes, click here.