Howard Kushlan knows the best place to get eggs, where to find Clorox wipes, who's in need of distilled water for their CPAP machine, which neighbor has a prescription waiting to be picked up, and just about every shopping policy at every food store in Palo Alto.
Over the past month, the Palo Alto resident has spent his days — and some evenings — helping neighbors during the pandemic as part of a growing corps of volunteer residents that he unintentionally inspired to take action after sending a call out to those in need on social media.
"I didn't overthink it. I just put a post up saying, 'I'm happy to do whatever you need; if you need groceries, if you need shopping, if you need supplies, whatever,'" Kushlan told the Weekly over the phone last week. "And then it just sort of caught on. Other people ran with it, and it's taken on a life of its own."
Kushlan said his post had about 350 likes and 90 comments last week and had inspired more than 200 residents from well beyond his downtown neighborhood to join in and volunteer to help vulnerable residents throughout the community.
He has set up a Google Doc where people can add new requests for assistance or remove requests that have been fulfilled.
"I don't micromanage it," he said. "It's awesome. People just go in and get things done. ... We don't have time to waste."
Volunteers are doing everything from translating for non-English speaking seniors at Lytton Gardens to taking time to chat on the phone with someone who just needs to talk to coordinating the distribution of hand sanitizers to nurses.
"It runs the whole gamut," said Kushlan, who was preparing to help someone move the next day after shopping for groceries for a neighbor and taking a dog for a walk.
No one is more surprised by how one post on the social-media site Nextdoor could have snowballed into such an enormous effort than Kushlan himself.
"What's incredible is it's metastasizing in the best kind of way," he said. "I'm stunned by the volume of people who genuinely want to help. It's been awe-inspiring."
Kushlan said since the stay-at-home order, he's been focused on answering every call and doing every possible thing he can when somebody makes a request.
"There's a lot of uncertainty, and so many people are out there that are scared and want help," said Kushlan, who grew up in Palo Alto and now runs Crux, a marketing and political consulting firm.
"My view is this is a war, and we all have to do what we can. With a crisis like this, I think there's no time to wait for instructions. You've got to step up with whatever your skill set is," he said.
He said he's learned a lot through this unexpected period of volunteering. One woman from a senior living center called him really scared because she needed distilled water for her CPAP machine.
"I didn't even know those machines needed distilled water," he said. The water was tough to find, but he finally tracked some down.
"I just go to different stores like Piazza's or Safeway or Ace Hardware that I know, looking for supplies," said Kushlan, who does one shopping trip at a time. "Everyone at the stores knows me now."
Kushlan said that, two weeks ago, going shopping was like an "apocalyptic" experience. Now, he says about waiting in line,"once you're inside, it's like a very lovely calm."
Kushlan, who was just a few blocks away from the World Trade Center in New York City during 9/11, said this coronavirus outbreak is like nothing he's experienced.
"I was out taking a walk with my mom this morning, and it's like there's this enemy out there that we can't see. It's so bizarre. It's unfathomable," he said.
Kushlan said one silver lining from this experience is that he's gotten to know his neighbors.
"I have to tell you, I'm someone who doesn't necessarily get involved with the neighborhood. I was one of those people who felt, 'It's nice here, but I don't know my neighbors,'" he said. "In times like these, you have to step outside your comfort zone, and that's when people's best is brought out."
This profile originally appeared in the April 3 print edition of the Weekly and is part of our ongoing series, "Ordinary people, extraordinary times," capturing the stories of locals during the coronavirus crisis. Read more of their stories through the links below:
To view the series on one page, visit PaloAltoOnline.Atavist.com.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.