Like everyone else on the planet, the top three City Pulse’s COVID-19 heroes hope like hell this will not turn into an annual event. But there is a silver lining in the cloud of horrors that descended upon the globe in 2020. The pandemic and its economic consequences have spawned millions of heroic acts of kindness, compassion and empathy everywhere, and greater Lansing is no exception.
Last month, City Pulse asked readers to nominate individuals and organizations they consider heroes in the fight to cope with and defeat COVID-19. Then we asked readers to vote on them.
It seems almost arbitrary to acknowledge three people out of so many, but each of our top three vote getters — mask making fabric store owner Jessy Rae, bill-paying do-gooder Mike Karl and Michigan’s stalwart Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — are neighbors to be grateful for.
Let their stories serve as a modest tribute to a bigger spirit, to the innumerable health care heroes, teachers, delivery people, mail carriers, burger flippers, and so many others who are keeping the flame lit in a dark time.
Among this legions of heroes large and small are the other nominees: Julie Davis, a preschool teacher at Capital Area Community Service Head Start; Jane French, a large animal veterinary technician; the MSU 3D PPE Maker team; Scott Rolen of Lou & Harry’s; Kristi Schneider, an ER nurse at Sparrow Hospital; Julie Stephenson, a crisis therapist at Clinton-Eaton-Ingham Community Mental Health; Pamela Vandervest, a clinical laboratory scientist at Sparrow Hospital; and Tracey Lynn van Duesen, a clinical therapist. Now let’s not do this again soon.
Mellonie, a Lansing resident who lives on $700 a month and copes with serious medical issues, needed help with a $150 Consumers Energy bill in April.
Mellonie asked that we not use her last name but wanted her story to be told.
“It’s not about me,” she said. “A lot of people are struggling right now.”
Paying people to pick up her food and medicine in a pandemic — not to mention paying for the food and medicine — was stretching her resources past the limit.
“It’s hard when you’re already struggling and something like this comes along,” she said.
She got that help from a Facebook telethon organized by another COVID Hero, Mike Karl.
“That $150 was like everything to me,” Mellonie said. “It was a huge contribution to my life.”
A GM employee with quarantine time on his hands and a penchant for do-gooding, Karl helped Mellonie and dozens of other people hit by the pandemic and the lockdown pay utility, phone, food and other bills, to the tune of $18,400, raised in three Facebook telethons.
“People like Mike are so rare,” she said. “Everything is ‘me, me, me.’ He’s all ‘you, you, you.’”
Karl is from Laingsburg but moved to West Virginia as a kid and came back to work for GM after high school.
At the height of the COVID-19 lockdown, Karl was doing fine with the $600 supplemental unemployment benefit and a stocked larder, but he saw that others were struggling. He started giving away his extra $600 and saw that there was a lot more need.
But what can you do while you’re locked down? He decided to launch a live Facebook telethon and found himself brokering a series of tearful epiphanies.
“I called my daughter and bawled my eyes out after he helped me,” Mellonie said.
“It just took off,” Karl said. “It was planned for an hour, but it went on for hours and hours. People were donating and I’d just turn around and chat with someone who had an electric bill or whatever. All I asked is that they show it to me, and how to make payment, and I’d pay it for them on the spot. I just connected the dots.”
He partnered with Westlund’s Apple Market to get six people gift certificates for $100 food shopping sprees. For people who needed pet food and supplies, he arranged to buy 10 $25 gift certificates at Soldan’s.
And he did all of this with one good arm. On March 19, he suffered a rotator cuff injury that still causes him serious pain.
Karl’s help comes with no questions asked, but he does warn people that the spirit of giving is contagious.
After the telethon, Mellonie took a drive around downtown Lansing. She saw a frail man huddled in front of the downtown library.
She checked her wallet and found that she had $5.
“I never thought about myself like this before,” she said. “But I offered him the five bucks. He probably thought I was a crazy lady. Because somebody did something for me, it made me want to do what I could for others.”