After being featured in 'One Good Thing', volunteers keep on giving


By Agency

Diaz has pedalled thousands of miles to carry books that people can barter for bags of a cereal mix aimed at providing relief to families suffering chronic malnutrition. Photo: Henning Sac/AP

For more than a year, The Associated Press has been bringing us “One Good Thing” – stories highlighting good deeds done by individuals to brighten others’ days during trying times.

Usually, their stories don’t end there. They keep volunteering their time, energy and resources to help people in need, even if their own lives were also turned upside down by a pandemic that has killed and sickened millions around the world. Sometimes they’ve received recognition for their service, or seen support and donations roll in as a result of the publicity.

Recently, we checked in with several of those heroes and updated their stories.

In February, we brought you the story of Bonifaz Díaz. He biked in and around the Guatemalan highlands city of Quetzaltenango with his saddlebags filled with donated books to barter for an oatmeal-like cereal mix, Incaparina, that an NGO was using to feed nearly 400 children in need.

Díaz is still covering around 150km per week in the city at a lung-busting 2,330m above sea level. Mostly, he makes his trips in the morning because it’s the rainy season and storms typically roll in in the afternoon. He figures he collects about 36kg of Incaparina a week, enough to keep the malnutrition programme going.Ana Castillo (left) trades four pounds (1.8kg) of a cereal mix for a sociology book delivered by Diaz in Quetzaltenango in January. Photo: Henning Sac/APAna Castillo (left) trades four pounds (1.8kg) of a cereal mix for a sociology book delivered by Diaz in Quetzaltenango in January. Photo: Henning Sac/AP

Díaz had worried that the barter donations could dry up as pandemic lockdowns eased in the country, but the opposite turned out to be the case: Donor interest has surged, three other cyclists have joined him since February, and a local cycle shop is now doing maintenance on their bikes for free.

“My fear was that once they started being less afraid (of the coronavirus), people wouldn’t feel as committed, ” Díaz said. “But the project has been getting stronger because people participate.”

Even as he hopes to return to work in the coming weeks at the theatre company he co-founded – shut down for more than a year due to the pandemic – he intends to keep the barter project up and running.

“I feel that there’s reason for it to exist even without the pandemic, ” Díaz said. “The problem of child malnutrition is always latent.”

Flourishing food pantry

Despite her own coronavirus-related struggles, including a lost job and overdue rent on her martial arts studio, Sofia Moncayo spearheaded a New York City food distribution programme as it ballooned to serve hundreds of people suddenly struggling to stave off hunger.

After the AP’s story was published three months ago, more people came forward wanting to support the project, organised through the Mosaic West Queens church and community centre, Moncayo said recently by email.

Touring musicians David Shenton and Erin Shields, the subjects of another story, assembled a cast of Broadway stars and celebrities for a benefit concert that raised about US$6,000 (RM24,735) for the pantry in a single evening, Moncayo said.

Kim, a sophomore at The Landon School, speaking during an event to honour volunteers helping to battle the coronavirus, in the Blue Room of the White House on May 1 last year in Washington. Photo: Alex Brandon/APKim, a sophomore at The Landon School, speaking during an event to honour volunteers helping to battle the coronavirus, in the Blue Room of the White House on May 1 last year in Washington. Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

The Kelly Clarkson Show donated US$5,000 (RM20,612) for the pantry and also paid for Moncayo, Shields and another volunteer to go on an upcoming vacation to the Bahamas in appreciation for their efforts. And LaGuardia Community College invited Moncayo to speak at 2021 commencement ceremonies.

Moncayo said that with a federal farm-to-families food programme ending this month, the pantry is looking to boost its US$20,000 (RM82,450) monthly budget to US$30,000 (RM123,675) to keep up with demand.

“The work at the food pantry continues, ” she wrote, “and our fundraising efforts are more important than ever.”

Flying for a cause

TJ Kim, a high school junior and aviator living in McLean, Virginia, was recognised as one of 10 noted youth volunteers in the country. His accomplishment: after-school missions flying more than 90,000 items of gloves, masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment to 20 rural hospitals in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia.

The distinction – awarded during a virtual celebration last month – came with a US$7,500 (RM30,919) scholarship and a US$5,000 (RM20,612) grant to a nonprofit of Kim’s choice. With India in crisis as the world’s pandemic epicentre, he plans to give the grant to an organisation doing Covid-19 relief work in the South Asian nation.

Kim devised Operation Supplies Over the Skies, or Operation SOS, as a way to help the community and keep himself active after his lacrosse season was shut down. The response he got from hospital staffers was rewarding, and he plans to continue making deliveries even after the pandemic eases or ends altogether.

“I’ve always said from the beginning that as long as there’s a need, ” Kim said, “I’m going to keep flying.” – AP

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