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As the nation adjusts to social distancing and other COVID-19 safety measures, many University of Tennessee, Knoxville, alumni are pitching in to help neighbors cope with the challenges of the health crisis.

Greene County Pickup Service

In Greeneville, Tennessee, Lennie Lawson, president of Gateway Ford-Lincoln-Nissan, and his daughter, Abby, the executive manager, offered their dealership resources as a delivery service for Greene County residents in need.

The Lawson family
The Lawson family

UT graduates from 1978 and 2008, respectively, the Lawsons are picking up groceries and prescriptions and offering the use of their vehicles for other needs.

“We have done a lot of thinking about our Gateway family over the last week,” said Abby in a video on the dealership’s Facebook page.

“We would like to offer our help to anyone in our community who is immunocompromised, elderly, or ill by delivering ‘the necessaries’ if you are unable to get out and about. We can pick up your orders at the grocery store or run some milk and pinto beans by your house if you or someone you know is not in the condition to leave their home. If your pharmacy will allow, we will send a member of our staff to bring your prescriptions to your house as well. We are here to help in any way we can! You are much more to us than customers; you are our friends, and we appreciate you!”

Deliveries for Knoxville Neighbors

Knoxville photographer Bruce McCamish, a 1991 forestry graduate, started a similar initiative with his Delivery Assist 865 Facebook group, which drew 533 members in less than 24 hours, including many alumni and local legislators, TV anchors, and journalists.

Bruce McAmish
Bruce McAmish

“Please have patience as this is not an overnight miracle,” said McCamish. “I am in the process of meeting with restaurants in the area and speaking with professional delivery services that are willing to waive their fees and chefs who are willing to prepare meals for what could be a dire situation. Hopefully none of this is set into motion and life is back to normal soon, but I am getting prepared in case it is not.”

McCamish is directing volunteers to contact Patrick Bardsley at GateWay Delivery. “They need volunteer drivers to help deliver an assortment of things to those that should not or cannot get out,” said McCamish, who also met with Yassin Terou of Yassin’s Falafel House and Chef Scott Whitaker.

“We are trying to come up with an alternative for hot meals to those who have none. Yesterday, the state of Tennessee said they are going to continue food programs for school children, so we need to concentrate on the homeless and our senior citizens who will be most affected, along with anyone needing our help.”

Deliveries for the Elderly in North Carolina

Griffin Brody, who graduated from UT last spring and works for the start-up PetScreening, has been making deliveries to the elderly in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area, and signing up others to do the same.

“Someone reached out and said their elderly grandparent needed assistance,” said Brody. “I was happy to offer that assistance.”

He then made posts on Reddit and the Nextdoor app offering to run errands for elderly citizens nervous about venturing outside. Brody has delivered groceries, some nails from Lowe’s, and one older gentleman contacted him just looking for someone to talk to.

So far, Brody says, he hasn’t collected money for any of the groceries he’s bought. While he hopes he’ll get reimbursed, it’s not about the money.

“I lost my grandmother and grandfather this year,” he said in a story in the Charlotte Observer. “I do not want anyone else to have to if they can help it.”

Brody has reached out to more than 100 churches, temples, and mosques offering to help their elderly congregants with deliveries and has signed up nearly four dozen people in the area who have offered to help him.

Making Fabric Masks in Ohio

Renee Davis Wittman, who earned her master’s in English from UT in 1985, is making fabric masks with Sewing Guild No. 49 at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Wittman wrote in a Facebook post, “Volunteers can do our job no matter what state we live in. Willing to give my all to Tennessee and to Ohio. Smokey pride!”

fabric masks
Fabric masks made by Sewing Guild No. 49 in Columbus, Ohio.

Martial Arts Classes Online

A 2013 graduate in microbiology, Scott Bailey adapted his studio, P3 Martial Arts in Farragut, Tennessee, for his 305 taekwondo students by launching a series of virtual classes for kids stuck at home.

“We definitely had to think outside the box,” Bailey said. “We had the action plan in place three weeks prior to everything occurring and were able to launch within two days.”

boy particpates in online martial arts class
A boy participates in an online class at P3 Martial Arts.

Students at P3 Martial Arts now participate in their classes online, virtually, and interactively via Zoom. Bailey and his general manager, Robbie Rauschert, a 2017 business analytics and statistics graduate, have instituted weekly challenges that use techniques from video games and coaches parents on helping their kids train from home.

“There are many different instructor challenges to choose from,” Bailey said. “It works like this: you record yourself doing 25 push-ups, post it to the private Facebook group, and tag one of your friends. Your friend is then challenged to do those pushups faster.”

Another type of interactive class is set to video game music and students must respond to visual and audio cues by jumping, kicking, and spinning in sequence.

Exercise is something parents have been desperate to give their kids while working from home. Bailey understands this as he has 10- and 11-year-old children himself.

“My own kids are going a little bit stir-crazy, so I understand,” Bailey said.

martial arts students challenge each other in an online class
Students challenge each other in an online class by P3 Martial Arts.

UT 225th anniversaryThis story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary year. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.

Learn more about UT’s 225th anniversary