When a former restaurant industry worker heard of the mandated ban on dine-in customers at bars and restaurants, he pulled out his credit card and purchased a $50 gift certificate for his favorite barbecue joint.

When Birdies Cafe closed its doors, it passed out 80 plates of food to anyone in need.

As a way to help the community, The Village Baker, which is still operating, decided to pass out free children’s lunches to anyone in need.

“There’s a desperate need and a lot of food in the community in restaurants,” said Lauren Kurzman, owner of The Village Baker. “For me this is something we can do.”

As the pace of the pandemic crisis has increased, so has the efforts to help those in need. Social media pages teem with offers to help, from picking up prescriptions at pharmacies to sharing information about where to find toilet paper. When in an emergency, the community comes together to help each other, said Ryan Reese, Oregon State University-Cascades assistant professor.

“I thought it would be good to support locally,” said Bob Petow, a 69-year-old Bend resident. “I go to Baldy’s Barbecue twice a month with a friend for Tuesday and Thursday night dinner.

“I figure I’ll be tired of my own cooking soon enough.”

In Oregon, more than 183,000 people work in food service. On Monday, Gov. Kate Brown ordered that restaurants and bars should shift to carryout service as a way to contain COVID-19. In reaction, utilities have all offered to waive late fees and not disconnect service. Landlords have been urged not to evict tenants for nonpayment and to waive late fees.

“The economic shock that we are currently experiencing is unprecedented,” said Damon Runberg, Oregon Employment Department regional economist. “At least for a short period of time, unemployment will likely surge about rates we saw in the Great Recession. We need to get money in people’s hands now. Right now people are worried about how they will pay their rent, mortgage, utilities and food.”

As more restaurants and bars try to adjust their business model to accommodate social distancing, unemployment rates have soared. From Sunday to Tuesday, the number of unemployment claims was 22 times higher, according to the Oregon Employment Department. Claims rose from approximately 800 on Sunday to a total of 18,500 by Tuesday.

“An over-interpretation of social distancing might also include emotionally distancing ourselves from others, which could be costly to community wellness,” Reese said. “We need to be checking in with our neighbors via phone, text, Skype or Facetime. I do know that research strongly demonstrates the impact that kindness has on our broader health and wellness, and also, how contagious kindness can be.”

The community has a unique opportunity now to show kindness, he said.

“We adults need to consider what we are modeling to our younger generations,” Reese said.

Jenny Cooper, a Bend resident and small-business owner wants to help out too. As a moderator on a social media page, Pandemic Partners-Bend, Cooper organized a care package drive to give to health care workers. In under an hour, people offered $1,500 worth of donations and cash to be collected and assembled at her business.

“I love to give gifts, that’s how I show appreciation to people,” Cooper said. “I used to work in health care, and when people are sick and freaking out, they forget that health care workers are people too.”

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Reporter: 541-633-2117, sroig@bendbulletin.com

Brenna Visser contributed to this report.

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