SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — A pair of strangers got together to make sure their most at-risk neighbors in San Francisco’s Sunset District were cared for during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place.
Volunteers package food pantry groceries, then drive them to elderly and at-risk neighbors. It’s the work of the Sunset Neighborhood Help Group, started by Bianca Nandzik and Frank Plughoff.
When the city began sheltering in place, Nandzik helped an elderly neighbor get groceries. “I thought, ‘Oh, I could do that for other people as well!'” she recalled.
She posted the idea online. Plughoff, who Nandzik did not know at the time, suggested starting a Facebook group.
Nandzik did and invited Plughoff to join. In a week, the group had 800 members.
“The response has been phenomenal,” Plughoff said. “That’s just a testimonial to the fact that the people here are heroes and they really care for their neighbors.”
More than 1,450 Sunset Neighborhood Help Group members have responded to more than several hundred cases.
Besides connecting over social media, there is also a helpline with language translators.
To reach seniors who are not online, volunteers printed and distributed 30,000 flyers. 96-year-old Ellen Isaak received one.
“It’s wonderful to know there are people around who think about other people,” Isaak said.
She had groceries delivered by volunteers William and Bonnie Kwan, who are simply grateful they could help.
“I felt helpless sitting at home,” said Bonnie Kwan. “I am really thankful for Frank and Bianca for setting up this platform where we can offer our support.”
Plughoff himself once experienced the support of strangers during a crippling illness.
“Two years ago, I contracted a rare neurological disease and it basically left me bedridden,” he said.
People – even strangers – who donated toward a crowdfunding effort sustained him.
“They donated enough for me to live,” Plughoff said. “I realized, I can’t ever pay that back. My motivation in this is pay that kindness forward.”
In the end, Nandzik marvels at her stronger community.
“Everybody in this group is in his or her way a changemaker,” she stated. “It just shows we all depend on each other.”