When Philadelphia was told to go home and wash its hands to help flatten the curve, Beth Boyle immediately thought of a homeless man befriended by her friend Colin Morgan, and so a friend of hers, too.
“What about Reggie?”
How was he (or anyone else without a home) supposed to stay safe on the streets, let alone wash his hands?
It was a ridiculous ask for thousands of vulnerable Philadelphians before the virus; it seemed impossible now.
But then Boyle remembered an article she had read about activists in another city setting up portable sinks for the homeless. Why couldn’t she do the same?
Morgan, who had coincidentally read the same story, was in.
“Before, I just felt like I should help but didn’t always do as much as I could,” Morgan said. “I had to do something now.”
The friends set up a GoFundMe page, figuring they could probably get some donations from family and friends and pay for the rest themselves.
Within 24 hours, both writers lost their jobs because of the virus. Shortly after, a friend of Morgan’s died of COVID.
But thanks in large part to The Daily Show comedian Jaboukie Young-White sharing their efforts on Twitter, in almost that same time period, they had raised about $1,200. Enough to purchase 13 portable sinks, and the soap and bike locks to secure them. They would join multiple handwashing stations set up by other organizations around the city.
Morgan called the city to see if there was any paperwork he needed to fill out, maybe a permit?
“They just told me to do it,” he said. "They were basically in such a crisis that they said, 'Do whatever you can to help.’ ”
It struck me, when he shared that, how much good is accomplished by people just going out and doing it. Too often people delay carrying out their good ideas by thinking they need to set up a nonprofit or coordinate with a city organization or agency, to get a stamp of approval.
There are lots of lessons to be learned from the pandemic, but I hope one that sticks is just how easy it is to do good. Don’t wait. Don’t ask for permission or forgiveness. Just do it, in the same way as:
The South Philly community activist who read about a couple struggling with unemployment and the coronavirus, and within hours, dropped groceries at their front door.
The doctor who took coronavirus testing to Philadelphia streets to help black communities get tested.
All the people committing corona acts of kindness.
And these two friends — Morgan, 31, and Boyle, 33 — who saw a need in their small part of the world, and stepped up.
“I hope this makes the people who need to use these sinks feel seen,” said Boyle. “I hope it reminds the rest of us that none of us are too good to end up without a home in America. No one is safe from this kind of disaster. We have to stand with people who don’t have anything right now because no one is protecting us. We are all we have right now.”
In the last week or so, Boyle and Morgan, with an assist from a friend with a car, have started to put out the sinks — starting with one outside 5213 Grays Ave. and another at Lindbergh Boulevard and Harley Avenue.
“We’re looking at places where homeless people tend to be and also where the COVID hot spots are,” Boyle said.
After they installed the first sink, a homeless man who Morgan had earlier told about the project stopped him to say thank you. He’d used the sink a few times.
While they were setting up another sink, a city worker quickly approached: Just what did they think they were doing?
Even with her face covered, they could tell she was smiling. She left them to it.
The other day Morgan ran into Reggie and told him some of the sinks were up.