When restaurants across the country closed amid the Covid-19 crisis, thousands of service industry workers suddenly lost their jobs.
As many of them found themselves struggling to make ends meet, 2009 CNN Hero Doc Hendley, a former bartender, wanted to do something to help.
“It was devastating for the service industry community … People were scrounging, trying to file for unemployment, trying to figure out how are they going to make their rent payment,” said Hendley, whose nonprofit, Wine to Water, provides clean water and sanitation to communities around the world.
Hendley and his team of volunteers started putting together care packages in his hometown of Boone, North Carolina. The group distributes the packages, which are filled with 40 meals and other household necessities, to laid off restaurant workers throughout the state.
Even as restaurants across the country start to reopen, Hendley knows it will be crucial for his box program to continue.
“The problem is that revenue will still struggle for a lot of these places and many workers will still be out of the job since businesses will be trying to run extra lean,” Hendley said. “A lot of those workers are living paycheck to paycheck, or trying to pay their way through school, or a single mom trying to take care of kids.”
The boxes include fresh fruits and vegetables, coffee, fresh baked bread, and toilet paper, among other food and hygiene items. Hendley said their hope is to not only help people survive, but also to help them thrive during this time of uncertainly.
Since March, his organization has already given out more than 72,000 meals.
“These boxes have become really something that our community is really looking forward to each week,” Hendley said. “I saw a single mama come and pick up a box for her and her kids. And literally when she opened it up, she just started crying.”
Wine to Water has also reorganized its work internationally, filling a crucial gap in access and education for people in remote regions where clean, running water is scarce. The group is working in Tanzania, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Kenya, and Nepal.
“We were able to shift very quickly from our focus, which is generally on water and sanitation, and really focus on specifically hygiene related to hand washing and other things that would help reduce the spread of coronavirus,” Hendley said.
When the epidemic broke out, the organization’s water filter factories around the world began mass producing portable hand washing stations, which are placed in heavily trafficked areas such as police stations, health care clinics, and larger hospitals.
Wine to Water’s international Covid-19 response programs have so far reached more than 32,000 people.
“It’s been so inspiring to see how many people have gotten behind and supported our programs around the world,” Hendley said. “When the sun does come out after the storm’s over, I think that we as a people are going to come through this stronger and more together than we’ve ever been.”
Want to get involved? Check out the Wine to Water website and see how to help.