by Tom Sims
Recently, I became aware of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. I was thinking about the lesson that Fred Rogers would teach children about how to cope with profound crisis. He said to look for the helpers because there were always helpers. Sometimes they we teachers, sometimes police officers or doctors and nurses. Sometimes they were neighbors, but there were always going to be helpers and the helpers would help.
I was very aware that our community needed helpers and that I needed to be one of them. If I felt that way, others did as well. So, I thought about how to reach out to them and invite them to one table. I already knew who many of them were and had known them for years. Usually, we work on our own projects and cooperate from time to time. This is another matter. Everyone is needed at the same table.
I allowed my stream of thought to flow into the present crisis, one that is affecting the entire world and every generation and people group in this world. The children, the old, the vulnerable are all at risk, as are the rich and powerful. From hovels to palaces, a deadly virus can spread.
It turns out that the Catholic church had identified, through its history, fourteen men and women who were already in Heaven, whose great continuing gifts were to pray for people in specific kinds of crisis. These were called “The Holy Helpers.” I will take it. I can use all the prayer help I can get from the living or the dead.
The tradition originated during the fourteenth century at the time of the “Black Death.” The Bubonic Plague was sweeping through Europe and people needed the comfort of knowing they were not alone. The saints were both historically and legendary figures whose lives had been exemplary and who had been known, during those lives, for coming to the aid of people in distress.
The Helpers depicted in the painting from left to right: Blaise (Blase, Blasius), Denis (Dionysius), Erasmus (Elmo), Pantaleon (Panteleimon), Vitus (Guy), Cyriacus, Christopher (Christophorus), Agathius (Acacius), Eustace (Eustachius, Eustathius), Giles (Aegidius), George (Georgius), Barbara, Catherine of Alexandria, and Margaret of Antioch. Each had a set of gifts, skills, and functions in life. They represent the full spectrum of community where people help people.
Suddenly, people are secluded in the homes. There are lines at grocery stores where many are encountering rationing for the first time in their lives. Seniors like me had heard about it from our parents and grandparents, but we have only experienced plenty all our lives.
Never have so many been quarantined.
Never have we, in our lifetimes, experienced a pandemic. This is entirely new territory for us. We need helpers more than ever. As I considered these things, it occurred to me that we not only need helpers; most of us want to be helpers.
So, how do we help?
If we are not in essential jobs, we need to be home. What can we do? How do we touch other people without coming into physical proximity?
While some of us are going to be in public, most are not. We are using our phones and computers. We are setting up meetings. We are texting, emailing, and messaging our friends and neighbors. These are essential elements of good neighboring.
But how about crowd sourcing?
If everyone in scouring the internet for resources, information, and connections between helpers and people who need help, how can we share that information? How do we aggregate it, vet it, test it for accuracy, and disseminate it?
The need over the last few weeks has been for good solid information and networking on a local level. Government agencies, businesses, non-profits, medical institutions, faith groups, and individuals, including volunteers, have needed a central forum for sharing. It needed to be something that was not in competition with other clearinghouses, something that was crowd sourced and managed, and something that was available for everyone to participate it. The need was present and becoming more and more profound.
That is why the “Fresno Area Emergency Resources – COVID 19 Response” was started on Facebook. That is why it grew to over sixty people within the first hour and over 2000 participants in less than two weeks and continues growing.
The need is not going away, but the helpers are gathering. Volunteers have stepped up to staff the group and are actively managing it. Members are posting hundreds of links, messages, questions, answers, and tips for each other. The mood is friendly and helpful. The spirit is cordial and cooperative.
Fresno area helpers are coming together. It is not about our group. It is about the people, groups, and programs, including other clearing houses, that are contributing there and making the community aware of what the community is needing and doing so that we can all get through this crisis. They are helpers like Tom Cotter, co-administrator, and quite a few moderators who have stepped up to make it work. They are helpers like the journalists who have joined and are participating without needing credit.
It is about the public officials and elected people who are mingling there with ordinary citizens. It is about the shoppers who are willing to share where they found essentials. It is about people who find information in the forum and repost it to their own social media pages. It is about ordinary people who are spending their online effort, their research energies, and their time at home to gather vital information for their neighbors. They are not hoarding it. They are not using it only to their own advantage. They are living the spirit of community and generosity. They are holy helpers.
The group is evolving, and other great groups and pages are emerging with specialized information. This is just the one that takes my time and about which I know the most. It is also one that is very willing to promote the others.
How curious that we will get through this together by staying further apart than ever and yet, at the same time, drawing closer together. It is a time for thinking globally but acting locally. It is time for learning new skills and redefining our limitations, expanding our notion of our capabilities, and reaching out in new ways to neighbor our neighbors.
Helpers are everywhere. They are stocking the shelves of grocery stores and checking us out. They are policing our streets, putting out fires, and rescuing the injured. They are taking our blood pressure in the emergency rooms. They are keeping our electricity and other utilities on. They are staying home when they really need a paycheck. They are working from home when it is inconvenient. They are teaching our students remotely. They are governing us. And, they are staying in touch with us online and keeping us in touch with each other.
We will come through this and we will owe much of it to the helpers around us and the helpers that we are – Holy Helpers.
Join the Group and Share: “Fresno Area Emergency Resources – COVID 19 Response”