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It all started when a good Samaritan helped an elderly couple just as the COVID-19 fears were creeping into Central Oregon.

You might recall the story in The Bulletin on March 13: Amid the fears sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, a good deed by Bend professional runner Rebecca Mehra about helping an elderly couple buy groceries went viral on Twitter.

Mehra, 25, tweeted earlier that week about buying groceries for an elderly couple who felt too vulnerable to go inside the grocery store. By 8 a.m. the next day, the first of the tweets had 50,000 likes and had been retweeted over 10,000 times. By 1:30 p.m., it had more than doubled to over 160,000 likes and 31,000 retweets.

“I heard a woman yell to me from her car,” Mehra said in a tweet.

“I walked over and found an elderly woman and her husband. She cracked her window open a bit more, and explained to me nearly in tears that they are afraid to go in the store.

“Afraid to get sick as they are in their 80s and hear that the novel coronavirus is affecting older people disproportionately. And that they don’t have family around to help them out. Through the crack in the window, she handed me a $100 bill and a grocery list, and asked if I would be willing to buy her groceries.”

Which, of course, Mehra did.

Act of kindness spurs action

Her story went viral and caught the attention of national news outlets, too.

And, it caught the eye of Nick Dean, director of operations for Aloha Produce, a local produce distributing warehouse in Bend.

“The random act of kindness from a stranger who purchased food sparked an important discussion at Aloha Produce,” Dean told The Bulletin recently. It led to the launch of a new program to assist families in Central Oregon.

Aloha routinely delivers produce to Bend-La Pine Schools, St. Charles, local restaurants and retirement centers. Imagine the financial loss facing the company when the closure orders came down for schools and restaurants.

“We lost 90% of our business right out of the gate,” Dean said. “But I figured if people were too afraid to go into grocery stores, why not bring the groceries out to them?”

So the warehouse at 20485 Murray Road did just that. Customers call in and workers pack up boxes of groceries to bring out to their awaiting cars, all while adhering to strict social distancing guidelines.

New business model

“We worked countless hours to start a new business model,” he said. That included a new website: bendfood.org.

But it went further. The firm offers discounts for restaurant staff. And it began donating food to The Giving Plate, which offers food to hundreds of families in need each month. There’s also a drop off place in Sisters at Angeline’s Bakery.

“When went to talk to the people at the Giving Plate about what more we could do; that day, Mid Oregon Federal Credit Union handed them a check for $1,000 and us a check for $1,000.” That went to buying more food.

Also, customers began donating. An east-side retired couple turned over their fresh supplemental paychecks from the federal government — $1,200 each — to Aloha.

“We bought a pallet of food with that for the Giving Plate. And we will continue the giving.” Customers can donate via the website as well.

“It is our duty to make sure we help our community as we are the only local produce warehouse in the area,” Dean said.

And for that, they are recognized by The Bulletin for being a Beacon.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a weekly series highlighting companies that have altered their business model to help others during the coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders.

Editor: 541-633-2166, gobrien@bendbulletin.com

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