As Austin Hunkers Down During COVID-19 Outbreak, One Neighbor Grabs Her Running Shoes

Mar 17, 2020

Hand sanitizer is now a thing worth whispering about.

“Shhhh, somebody had a little left over,” CC Rowe said, as she grabbed a small bottle of aloe-scented hand sanitizer ensconced in a Ziploc bag from a neighbor’s porch.

Rowe wasn’t stealing the highly prized disinfectant; the neighbor had asked Rowe to pick it up and shuttle it to someone down the street who likely needed it more. Rowe got the call through a Facebook group called “Buy Nothing Windsor Park,” where residents living in Austin’s North Central neighborhood give and take items for free.

Here’s how it works: Someone posts a photo and description of something they’re looking to get rid of. It’s called a “give”: a tea kettle, a pair of Crocs, two hermit crabs. People respond with their interest and the poster chooses who gets it. You can also post an “ask”: moving boxes, a storage bin, some bookends.

Online neighborhood groups like these have been working overtime lately. By Monday evening, 10 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Austin. (The number is likely higher, experts say, because right now the testing capacity is limited.) The city has banned gatherings of more than 250 people, Austin public schools are closed for several weeks, and companies have asked employees to work from home.

In response, people have taken to sites like Facebook and Nextdoor to ask and offer help. “Hi neighbors, I know this is an uncertain time so wanted to offer a helping hand," began several posts on Nextdoor last weekend. In Rowe’s Facebook group, people offered to go to Target or H-E-B for neighbors who were concerned about leaving their homes.

“I basically play on-foot courier”

That’s where Rowe comes in. Last year, she made an offer to her Facebook neighborhood group: As a long-distance runner, why not use her runs to carry items from one house to another?

At 6:30 a.m. Sunday, she strapped on a small backpack full of “gives” from her own house; this time, it was full of bath bombs and stress balls, items people had asked for as they faced days, even weeks, at home. Rowe consulted the route she’d written on a small piece of paper.

Rowe pauses to pick up a box of masks from Greta Kreidner that will be passed on to another neighbor.
Credit Michael Minasi / KUT

“I basically play on-foot courier,” Rowe said while running to the first pickup location, her voice measured like the seasoned athlete she is. (Rowe has run one ultramarathon and is training for another in May.) “And I run from house to house, picking up items from one house and dropping them off to another."

Lately, the gives and asks in her Facebook group are targeted toward people stuck at home during the coronavirus outbreak. Give: a painting set for kids, a Harry Potter puzzle, Vitamin C face masks. Ask: home exercise equipment, a desk chair, a sourdough starter, diapers.

That last ask was from Eddie Edwards.

Edwards’ 1-year-old twin daughter ended up in Dell Children’s Medical Center last week with bronchiolitis, a lung infection likely caused by a cold, she said. At the same time, she and her wife realized it was going to be another week before their Amazon delivery of diapers arrived and they were running low.

Edwards was too nervous to leave the house. What if the store was out of diapers and she risked carrying the coronavirus back home, where her baby’s lungs were still recovering? (COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that can affect the lungs.)

“It doesn’t hurt to ask,” she decided. So, Edwards posted to the Windsor Park Facebook group:

Credit Facebook screenshot

Within an hour, two parents had responded. Her kids needed size 3 diapers, but would size 4 work? Another: I have an almost full bag to spare. Want it?

“It was like hands coming out from all around to support a family that needed it,” Edwards said.

“It’s definitely bringing out the best”

Rowe secured the hand sanitizer in her bag. It was going to a woman who lived several blocks away, recovering at home from heart surgery.

“Somebody who just had heart surgery needs hand sanitizer more than some d-----bag in Tennessee,” Rowe said, referring to the story of a man who stockpiled 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer at the start of the outbreak.

“And then there are people [where] it’s definitely bringing out the best,” she said.

Rowe witnessed that "best" just a few doors down, when she stopped at a house to drop off “drinking buddies” – little plastic humans you attach to wine glasses to make it look like a woman is trying to climb into your Pinot noir.

The neighbor, Greta Kreidner, was at home and asked Rowe if she could add something to her backpack, for the neighbor who’d had heart surgery. She walked to her car and pulled out a box of face masks.

Rowe worries posts offering help during the pandemic aren't reaching the people who really needed assistance.
Credit Michael Minasi / KUT

“I spotted two boxes at H-E-B in a weird corner spot,” Kreidner said.

Rowe used a blue surgical glove to place the box in her backpack. “All right, we gotta keep a move on,” she said.

They bumped elbows as a goodbye. Rowe continued running down Thames Drive, with two more drop-offs on her list.

As she ran, Rowe worried posts offering help like what she’d seen on Facebook or Nextdoor weren’t reaching the people who really needed assistance: people who don’t use or have access to the internet.

“How do we reach out to the elderly in our neighborhood and the people who are already socially isolated and make sure that they’re taken care of?" she asked. "I don’t know.”

“I’m running stuff to neighbors like your momma”

After more than an hour of running through residential streets and busier ones like Manor Road — and dropping off a hairbrush for a single mom who was worried about lost wages during the outbreak — Rowe arrived at her last stop: the home of Jenny Lorraine, who started and runs the neighborhood Facebook group. She’s also the woman who’d recently had heart surgery. It was her third since November.

Lorraine’s husband opened the door, revealing two of her kids. The oldest one, a 4-year-old, asked Rowe what she was wearing on her head; it was a headlamp, since Rowe started running before the sun came up.

“That’s so cars can see me and I can see what’s happening,” she said. “I’m running stuff to neighbors like your momma.”

Rowe handed over the hand sanitizer and the box of face masks. Then, she started the last roughly quarter mile back to her house. Once there, she wiped down her door handles and washed her hands.

“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you,” she sang, ensuring she scrubbed her hands with soap for the recommended 20 seconds. The 5-and-a-half mile run barely winded her, and she would run another six later that day.

“All done,” she said, wiping her wet hands, her backpack, now lighter, removed.