Jeff Gerritt

Palestine Herald

Over the last week, COVID-19 has unmasked the faces of our neighbors and ourselves. It wasn’t always pretty.

Starting on Friday of last week, panicked shoppers, fearing mass quarantines or a national shutdown, stripped store shelves of paper towels, toilet paper, disinfectant, and hand sanitizer. They started at Walmart and worked their way down to the Dollar Stores.

At Walmart, Anderson County’s largest retailer, some rolls of toilet paper never made it to the shelves, as shoppers snatched them from pallets rolling to the racks.

By hoarding essentials, shoppers deprived their neighbors of daily supplies they needed to protect themselves. Stockpiling quickly spread to milk, eggs, canned goods, and meat, as consumers hunkered down into survivalist mode.

To be sure, buying out the hand sanitizer is hardly the worst people could do. But hoarding that leads to scarcity during a crisis lives in the same darkness as evil: The belief that one’s own interests and life are all that matters.

Still, faces of fear were not all this community saw this week. Calculated acts of kindness and spontaneous gestures of compassion have sprung from the same adversity.

In truth, those faces eclipsed the rest.

One belonged to Diane Davis of Palestine, who sparked a social media movement in Anderson County called “Neighbors Helping Neighbors.” The new website, launched Tuesday night, created a

community exchange for people in need, and for volunteers wanting to help them secure basic products and services, such as paper towels, milk, transportation, and babysitting.

In less than three days, more than 2,500 people signed up; Davis and another local volunteer, Christine Alexander, have started boxing supplies.

Then there’s Esther Vineland of Palestine, who called Herald-Press editor Jeff Gerritt Tuesday to complain about the front-page editorial, “COVID-19: An epidemic of fear.” Vineland said the commentary took the medical risks of coronavirus too lightly.

To support the editorial’s stand on fear and hoarding, Gerritt noted he was out of hand sanitizer and couldn’t find more. On Wednesday, Vineland wrote a letter to the editor and dropped three bottles of hand sanitizer at the newspaper’s front desk.

Vineyard’s letter, “PHP editorial irresponsible,” appears on this page. Her bottles of sanitizer sit on the editor’s desk, along with a note to “email me if you need more.”

In less than a month, life has taken an almost surreal turn. Returning to normalcy will take months; things will get worse before they get better.

How quickly and easily we awaken from this bad dream will depend largely on how we treat one another. Facing a novel pandemic, we will become better or worse. Either way, we have plenty of striking examples from our neighbors and countrymen.

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