By Rachel Michelman
PHOENIX, AZ — Ethel Bates was taken aback when she found out that Arizona had issued a state-wide “stay home” order to combat the spread of COVID-19. The widowed 82-year-old, who also has high blood pressure, worried that she could put her health at risk by leaving her home to pick up groceries. Lucky for her, neighbor Dustin Kelley was prepared to lend a hand — no matter how under the weather he felt.
Kelley, an employee at Aéropostale, had been trying to find ways to pass time after all non-essential businesses were closed. “I’d been running a fever of 102 degrees one day, so I popped an Advil, took a walk, and ran into Ethel,” said Kelley between dry coughs. “She was struggling with carrying bags of hand sanitizer and some toilet paper packages, so I helped her out. Next thing I know, I’m doing grocery runs for a couple of my elderly neighbors.”
“A couple” is an understatement of Kelley’s service. Along with Bates, he delivered groceries to 23 different households over the last five days, and the number continues to grow. “Despite his shortness of breath and consistent muscle pains, he continues to help the community,” states Bates. “He’ll bring my groceries inside and unload them!”
Besides refunds for what was bought, Kelley won’t accept payment. In lieu, Bates and other neighbors give him baked goods. Rather than keeping the deserts, he has donated these to local homeless shelters: “I’ll pick a few things for myself, but unfortunately, I’ve somehow lost the ability to taste and smell things. I’d rather they go to those who need them more.”
Though his cough is only getting worse, Kelley continues to deliver groceries. As Bates admires, “He’s a fine upstanding man. I just wish he would wear a jacket and gloves to stop his chills.” Kelley shakes the matter off: “I seem to get cold easily. Besides, you can’t tell how ripe peaches and oranges are without feeling them with your bare hands.”