With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to wreak havoc emotionally and economically throughout the Mile High City, it's easy to feel downbeat, particularly during the holiday season — unless you're talking with Jen and Kane Lisiecki. The couple behind Help Needed in Denver Metro COVID-19, a Facebook group whose nearly 13,000 members have devoted themselves to helping neighbors in need, is bringing light to a dark world, one good deed at a time.
"I'm a news junkie," Jen admits. "I'm glued to the news 24/7, and I knew the virus was going to come here to America — and I knew we potentially weren't prepared for it. I was trying to get everyone in my life prepared for it, and they all thought I was wearing a tin-foil hat!"
Unfortunately, her concerns proved all too prescient. On March 13, shortly after she left her job as a floor manager for a major local retailer (that's where she met Kane), "Denver was starting to talk about closing the schools, and I had all this extra time," she recalls. "So I put up a post that said, 'Hey, guys, a lot of my friends are in the health-care field and no one's home to watch their kids. Can you help?'"
This entreaty struck a chord. "My friends shared it like crazy, and one of them said, 'Why don't you make this bigger — make it a public page?'" Jen continues. She and Kane "had never done anything like that before, but we had both been involved in community-service projects. So I said, 'Let's do it.' And it hit 530 people in a little over 24 hours."
"It was insane," Kane remembers. "There were moments when we were getting 300 to 500 member requests."
As the concept took off, so did the Lisieckis.
"In the beginning, we were doing a lot of running around, dropping off food and toilet paper," says Kane.
"Running errands for people," Jen adds.
"People were offering to donate clothing — a lot of kids' clothing," Kane remembers. "But it started out mainly as food."
"There was a huge need for food, because the grocery stores were running out," Jen says. "So we went to our local church's food bank and would load up the car, and in a couple of hours, all that food would be spoken for. It was heart-wrenching. We also got a lot of infant supplies. We had diapers in our spare bedroom.
"We had half a pallet of PediaSure in the house," Kane confirms.
"A lot of people were reaching out to us, saying, 'I'd like to donate to a group as a whole,'" Jen continues. "I was getting forty to fifty personal messages, and some of them were from survivors of abuse who didn't want to post publicly on the page. The group has set up entire houses full of supplies for people — even donated all the furniture."
"We furnished a few places," Kane notes. "We got a single mother and her kid off the street and into a place to live, with all the fixings she needed."
"She was homeless before the page," Jen adds. "That was an early success story."
As the membership grew, so did the connections between strangers. On Thanksgiving, Jen remembers, "I got this very sweet message from a lady who was helping a blind gentleman on our page who doesn't have family support. She ordered him all new supplies for his kitchen, but because of COVID, she couldn't go there. So she set up his whole kitchen by phone. He would hold something in his hand and say what it felt like, and she would describe to him what she thought it was and where it would go."
Likewise, Jen says, "A lot of people have adopted families and will provide them with food. And there are a lot of people who still need help. There's a forgotten part of the population, where maybe you were a gig worker or you worked in a bar. A lot of those people are still struggling to survive."
Fortunately, Kane points out, "We have a lot of resources now. You'll see long lines at food banks on the news, but our page is getting food on a weekly basis. A lot of places are trying to give away food at the end of the week before it goes bad, and we're sharing that on our page."
At this point, Jen is devoting herself to the Facebook group full-time. Kane, who works at Dardano's Shoe Store on South Colorado Boulevard, tries to give her a break on the weekends — and they've just added another moderator to help shoulder the load, which has been growing as the holidays near.
"We set up a main thread for presents," Kane says. "Three or four people on the page are getting donations from other members and going out and shopping and buying presents and putting together gift bags and gift packages for kids. And people are cleaning out their places and finding old toys and posting them for presents. We're probably getting sixty or seventy gift posts a day right now."
"It's really been touching," Jen stresses. "We even have some kids who are donating money that would be spent on them for gifts — asking Santa, via moms and dads, to donate that money to get gifts for kids in need. ... We had a sweet lady offer to help senior citizens who might be suffering from loneliness. She's getting a bunch of gifts for them so they don't feel so alone. There are a lot of individual efforts like that."
The Lisieckis are thinking about turning the group into a nonprofit — one that would live on after the pandemic finally passes. "The type of economic threats for people could go on for a long time," Jen confirms. "There's already a huge rise in the number of homeless people we have on our page who get stuff like tents and sleeping bags. We didn't expect that this would reach past COVID so vastly to our underserved population.
"There are a lot of people who want to help," Jen concludes. "They just needed a good outlet to do it."