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14 Meaningful Ways People Are Saying Thank You to Essential Workers

Many Americans are finding ways to honor the bravery and sacrifice of essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

A hand painted sign thanking all essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic decorates a front lawn on May 3, 2020 in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.Andrew Lichtenstein/Getty Images

We often hear about the frontline heroes: doctors, nurses, technicians, and other healthcare professionals treating people with COVID-19. At the same time, another variety of heroes has emerged, the essential worker. These often unsung heroes, including grocery store clerks, delivery drivers, food service providers, and mail carriers, among others, put their lives at risk each day to keep us safe. Many Americans are finding ways to honor the bravery and sacrifice of essential workers by saying, “thank you.” We hope these stories will inspire you to do the same.

If you have a story of kindness during the coronavirus epidemic, we want to hear it. You can share your story at rd.com/nicest and it could appear on RD.com or even in Reader’s Digest magazine.

Scott TibbittsCourtesy Scott Tibbitts

Brightening another person’s day through song

Scott Tibbitts planned to join his daughter in Amsterdam in late April after she finished her semester of studying abroad. The novel coronavirus outbreak altered his plans. When he called Delta customer service to cancel his ticket, he was surprised by the cheery voice on the end of the line. Tibbitts, from Northeast Boulder, Colorado, asked the representative how she was doing and she answered honestly: “I’m actually not doing very well with all of this.” He half-jokingly asked what he could do, including maybe singing her a song. When she answered, “Yes, it would make my day,” he put his phone on speaker and played “Hallelujah” on the piano. After a few chords, he heard the representative singing along and sensed the emotion in her voice. When he finished the song, she asked, “How could you have known? That was my favorite song.”

all star deliveryCourtesy Mei Ling Nazar

An all-star delivery of thanks

The senior pastor of San Diego’s Rock Church, Miles McPherson, and NFL Hall of Fame Wide Receiver, Andre Reed, teamed up to make two special deliveries. Following social distancing guidelines, they delivered 50 meals to the San Diego Police Department and another 50 to the San Diego 911 Call Center. “I had no idea what an act of service being a 911 dispatcher does to keep people safe,” said Reed. The meals were part of the Rock Church’s COVID-19 relief effort to coordinate the delivery of additional meals by area restaurants to hospitals and first responder groups. In case you’re wondering, now is the best time to try a meal delivery service. This woman tried 16 meal delivery services, here are the ones she would buy again.

teacher appreciation dayCourtesy Jessica Ferrare

Teacher Appreciation Day

Teachers at Rockway Elementary are teaching remotely, but that didn’t stop the administrators at the Miami, Florida, school from celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week. Principal Julissa Pina, assistant principal Shante Thompson, school counselor Dr. Interian, and secretary/treasurer Raquel Rojas set up a curbside gift pick-up to honor their teachers. As Queen’s “We Are the Champions” played, the four ladies handed the teachers—all at safe distances within their cars—a special treat with a gift card and a balloon. “It was absolutely the sweetest gesture,” said teacher Jessica Ferrare. “I can truly say I feel so appreciated and I just adore my Rockway Family.” Find out 11 ways teachers are going above and beyond during coronavirus.

delivery hero care packageCourtesy Brian & Natalie Gallagher

Offering free protection

Soon after the coronavirus pandemic hit their hometown of Bel-Air, Maryland, entrepreneurs Brian and Natalie Gallagher recognized a shortage of personal protection equipment (PPE). Healthcare professionals, social service providers, and those responsible for essential services, including grocery cashiers, delivery drivers, and food service providers were unable to obtain the protection they needed to safely do their jobs. The Gallaghers stepped in and created The Hero Masks Project, a program that donates or sells PPE at cost. The couple continues to help various organizations including the United Way, homeless shelters, and families with compromised immunity, among others. Initially, they self-funded the purchase of face masks, N-95 masks, latex-free gloves, and hand sanitizer, but they are now accepting donations. Learn more about how you can get involved with The Hero Mask Project.

Chicken Wings on a Grill, Chicken BarbecueRaxsoller Malayte/Getty Images

Serving a home-cooked thank you

Bill Houston, owner of Carolina Billiards, in Wilson, North Carolina, is known in his community for his generosity. In November, he collects food for the local food pantry, and for Christmas, he collects socks and essentials for the elderly. He also coordinates donations to Toys for Tots to be passed along to underprivileged children. When the pandemic shuttered local businesses, including his, Houston and a few friends found a way to thank, honor, and help essential workers. Every Friday, restaurant employees, tattoo workers, medical professionals, police officers, utility workers, sanitation workers, and those displaced by the pandemic, enjoy a free BBQ or chicken meal, courtesy of Houston. Learn what to do if you’re laid off due to coronavirus.

hearts for heroes campaignCourtesy Jennifer Elston

Sharing the love

The City of Ormond Beach is expressing its gratitude to first responders and other local heroes through a program called #HeartsForHeroes. Residents and businesses throughout the city in Florida are creating hearts with supportive messages and displaying them on their front doors, windows and storefronts. Along with prominently posting the hearts for first-responders and healthcare workers to see while on their way home after a long shift, the community is featuring the hearts on social media. They offer an additional way to show support through a frame that can be added to a Facebook profile picture.

wall of gratitudeCourtesy Leslie Davenport

A special Monday lunch

The tight-knit community at Kips Bay Towers in New York City is going all out for essential workers. The Sweet Sunday project provides baked goods to New York University (NYU)-Bellevue Hospital staff. The “Wall of Gratitude” encourages residents whose apartments directly face the NYU Hospital Center to display signs expressing their appreciation. A third program, the Monday Meal, is a weekly lunch provided by the residents to their essential staff. They want each employee to know how much everyone in the apartment building appreciates their hard work, and how they value the safety and comfort the staff provides each resident.

paradeCourtesy Frank Rosenblum

A neighborhood parade lifts spirits while providing meals

One evening at 7 p.m., Fran Romano drove her car through her Boynton Beach, Florida, neighborhood waving a huge American flag. As her car radio blared, “God Bless America,” residents stepped outside to show their support for healthcare professionals and essential workers. Over the next few weeks, more neighbors joined her pickup parade. Romano, along with other neighbors, expanded their efforts and collected donations to provide meals for those they were honoring. In one night, they collected over $2,000. So far, they have provided meals for workers at the Publix supermarket, the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, the county fire rescue station, a COVID-19 testing center, and various hospitals.

Coffee and DonutNew_Folder/Getty Images

Paying it forward

Lori Porteleki, a home care provider, recently stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Norfolk, Massachusetts. When she paid for her order, she handed the cashier an extra $20 to cover the cost of the meal for the next healthcare provider or first responder that come through the drive-thru. “Take care of as many as you can with this,” she told the associate. As a former EMT—she served in that position for 18 years—she wanted to pay it forward and thank others in some way.

hearts for teachersCourtesy Amy Rodgers

Showing teachers a little love

Vicki Tweed, an assistant principal, and Susan Pritchett, a school counselor, found a way to share their love and gratitude for their staff. One morning, they placed paper hearts attached to stakes in each staff member’s yard. They wanted to show their appreciation for the online meetings the Simpsonville, South Carolina, teachers have been holding with students and the time they’ve invested in the new e-learning procedures. “All of us were so excited to have a sighting of them delivering to us!” said Amy Rodgers, a second-grade teacher. “I’ve left them in my yard ever since because it puts a smile on my face when I see them beside my driveway!”

Jack in the boxLindaJoHeilman/Getty Images

Fast food thank you

Cody Senegal and her children were waiting in line at a Jack in the Box drive-thru in Sacramento, California, when they spotted a mail carrier standing near the menu board. The cars in front of her passed by him, so she did too. When it was her turn to order, she noticed he was still standing there. She ordered and as she pulled away, the mail carrier rushed to the intercom. She realized what had happened, backed up, and asked him if he needed anything. He told her he had been trying to order for over 15 minutes but the intercom clicked off each time. After her car triggered the intercom, he placed his order and thanked her. Senegal pulled forward and paid for her meal as well at the mail carrier’s meal, too. “We have to come together as a community and help our people,” said Senegal.

patio furnitureCourtesy Kathy Mitchell

A handy neighbor builds a new friendship

One day, Kathy Mitchell’s neighbor called to tell her she had been burglarized. Her husband, an essential worker for the post office, was out of town driving between their home in Reno, Nevada, and San Francisco, California. He hadn’t had a day off since the outbreak. Before Mitchell got the wrong idea, the caller admitted that it was he who had done the burglarizing. The caller said he had taken two boxes out of her garage and added he would return them soon. What was taken? Boxes of patio furniture and a new grill, ready to be assembled if only Mitchell and her essential worker-husband could find the time. The caring neighbor found it for them. Less than two hours later, the Mitchell’s patio furniture and BBQ grill were assembled and ready for pickup. “I was so grateful to him for doing this for us,” said Mitchell. “What a nice thing for someone to do during this time for a neighbor that he barely knows.” These uplifting stories of neighbors helping during coronavirus will help you do the same. 

serving othersLuke Beard/Courtesy Hadley Bazemore

Serving those who formerly served others

At the start of the order to close restaurants, hospitality workers in the metro Atlanta area lost their jobs overnight. They faced food insecurity for themselves and their families. Michael Lennox, CEO and founder of Electric Hospitality, spearheaded a program called ATLFAMILYMEAL to offer relief. This newly created non-profit works directly with Atlanta-area restaurants to increase the production of meals and deliver these meals at no cost to hospitality workers around the city. Restaurant owners, chefs, hospitality workers, and various non-profit leaders have combined their efforts to feed metro Atlanta hospitality workers. So far, ATLFAMILYMEAL has prepared and delivered over 10,000 free meals to hospitality workers in need.

Mailbox with Bowsprungphoto/Getty Images

Sending congratulations and thanks through a virtual baby shower

Mail carrier Jessica Stitzel has been diligently making deliveries during the COVID-19 outbreak while pregnant with her third child. The essential worker’s dedication to her job inspired Ginger Swope to organize a virtual baby shower. The Cleveland Heights, Ohio, resident sent texts and emails to her neighbors who were eager to help her thank and congratulate Stitzel. Between 20 to 25 families left gifts and cards for the soon-to-be mom and a few residents decorated their mailboxes with bows and signs to offer their good wishes. “She is a good employee, and her customers really enjoy her,” Evie Rinehart, a Russells Point postmaster, told the Bellefontaine Examiner.

For more heartwarming stories, read on about these people who came from nothing and now want nothing more than to give back.

Lisa Kanarek
Lisa Kanarek is a freelance writer who covers family, relationships, and acts of kindness. Her work has been published in Reader’s Digest, The New York Times and The Washington Post, among other publications. She lives in Dallas, TX. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.