Community is the Answer

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Fire and Brimstone – Gilbert, Arizona

The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members. – Coretta Scott King

Yesterday morning, I did a quick check of my school email and noticed a message from the owner of a local pizza place, Fire and Brimstone.

“Hi Jeff, today we’re going to be donating all of the profits from the day to Willis.”

Throughout the school closure due to coronavirus, we provided boxes of food and supplies to many of our families on a weekly basis. Fire and Brimstone had previously given us “homemade” pizza kits to distribute to each of our families, but yesterday’s message from James was unsolicited and unexpected. I’ve never even met James. This act of extreme generosity (especially considering the hardships endured by small businesses and restaurants due to the state’s “stay at home” order), left me overwhelmed with gratitude.

Willis is a relatively small junior high school that serves an area that includes a pocket of urban poverty. Many of our students, and families, struggle with typical socio-economic related issues — access to food, healthcare, adequate housing, etc. This is true during “normal” times, but it has been exacerbated by the recent pandemic.

Earlier in the week, this tweet from Garrett Archer, who does data analysis for ABC 15, caught my attention.

I reviewed the data on the Arizona Department of Health Services Data Dashboard. The Willis zipcode was not in the top ten, but from what I could tell, it was tied for the 15th highest number of COVID-19 cases. This illustrates the disproportionate impact that the coronavirus and COVID-19 have had on our communities of poverty (consider the Navajo Nation).

At the beginning of the school closure, we made the decision to utilize our school’s Community Resource Room to do our best to support our students during the crisis. Our phenomenal parent liaison, Maria Huntington, connected with families and coordinated a massive effort to provide food and supplies. To begin the process, we utilized resources and support we had received from local businesses and churches. In addition, we asked our community for weekly donations. They responded. We were absolutely overwhelmed with the number of people who made weekly trips to drop off food, supplies, gift cards, and cash.

I was struck by how often people dropped off a donation and said something to the effect of, “It’s, not much, but…” I did my best to assure each one that their contribution mattered and that the gesture of support was every bit as valuable as the donation. Just like the email I received from James. The amount of money that is donated doesn’t matter, it is simply the willingness to care for others in need that makes the difference.

As I consider all of the options for schools safely reopening (and the work that will entail) I am left with more questions than answers — and quite frankly, I find it overwhelming. While I would love to think that things will quickly return to “normal,” I believe that would be naive and perhaps a bit reckless.

However, I am optimistic that we will find our way through the challenges — not on our own, but with the support of our friends, families, neighbors, and community.

Thank you to everyone who has become a part of the Willis community through your care and concern for our students and families. Words do not adequately express our gratitude.

Now, get out there and treat yourself to some great food from Fire and Brimstone. A local restaurant that is willing to show this level of empathy and concern for those in need deserves our ongoing support.

P.S. Their menu is phenomenal, but I recommend The Mediterranean Mashup.

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