Scared or Hungry? This quarantined woman wants to help 

  • Jessica Wheeler Russell and her son, Finn, are waiting for the weather to clear up so he and his brother can go outside again. Russell is spending her time in self-quarantine helping others by using her skills in IT to get help for others. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Published: 3/20/2020 1:45:27 PM
Modified: 3/20/2020 1:45:14 PM

Jessica Wheeler Russell isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

She’s a casualty of this new war, Planet Earth’s war, stuck inside her Concord home, with her husband, Adam, and their sons, Rowan, 5, and Finn, 3. A fever swept through the house recently, and that thrust the family closer to this too-surreal-to-be-true nightmare.

Thousands dead. Empty arenas and stadiums. Major cities buckling under the pressure and essentially closing. No end in sight.

So they sent Russell and her family home, quarantined for two weeks. From there, she’s been Captain Kirk on the bridge (her office). Her what-we-hope-is-not-a-five-year mission: connect people who want to help with people who need help, and visa versa.

She’s got 17 volunteers. They use an online sign-in, with names and phone numbers typed into different, separate graphs, like for grocery shopping, feeding pets, lending an ear. Those who seek help of some type jump aboard.

Russell, at the controls, connects this person to that person, that person to this person.

And if you’re lonely, she’s also arranged for anyone to, perhaps, speak to a higher power.

“There’s support, emotionally and spiritually,” Russell said via phone, of course. “We have a chaplain to make calls if someone needs someone to talk to.”

Her new career began two weeks ago. She and her boys had no choice, and that meant Adam didn’t either.

“Actually, they said, ‘No, you guys have to stay inside for two weeks,’ ” Russell said. “This gives me more time to work on this kind of stuff.”

She said the family pediatrician and the supervisor of her state job told her to self-quarantine. Now her Concord home, her office, is where it all happens, where Russell views spreadsheets, makes calls, gets calls, gives out assignments and coordinates deliveries.

Her 17-person, all-volunteer staff, is raring and ready to go.

“I want to stress to you,” Russell said, “That this is a community effort. That needs to be said. It’s not just me.”

Duly noted.

Meanwhile, a look at Russell’s Facebook page reveals a lot. Her T-shirt reads, “Impolite arrogant women make history.” She campaigned for Elizabeth Warren. My instincts told me she pointed a shade left, and I soon learned that the cause nearest to her heart is anti-racism.

Now she finds herself fighting a foe that never, ever discriminates. It’s US against it.

She’s home with her two boys, who now feel fine and are rocketing around the house and out in the backyard. She’s got her state job. And, now, this, coordinator of an enterprise, spreading her arms like a well-organized octopus.

“I told the volunteers that as we need help we will call you,” Russell said. “I held down a fulltime job, I worked on the presidential campaign, so I think I can handle this.”

She and her family gave us a close-to-home example of what’s happening everywhere in the country. Finn had a fever at daycare. Somewhere along the line, it hit Rowan. And Russell. Not Adam. You want family time? This is family time.

“The kids are getting antsy, Russell said. “They can’t really go anywhere and we don’t know for how long. They’re used to a different schedules. They had some outside time (Wednesday), but they can’t leave the property.”

Their plight matches that of others who’ve been affected by this. The one about confusion, supplies, readiness.

“No one from the family has been tested,” Russell said. “They insinuated that we were not in a high-risk area, and they told us they did not have any tests.”

The test kits have surfaced as a vital weapon in this fight, yet the issue continues, about the number of kits compared to the number of infected. Russell actually borrowed her idea from a similar project in Manchester, and there’s one in the North Country now as well.

It’s unclear what equipment or methods will be used or needed as the days and weeks and whatever move forward. Russell has a few clients who’ve been connected to helpers, and a few organizations that she works with to get out as much information as fast as possible to as many people as possible.

Russell wants you to use her as a resource, if you need help. Look at her Facebook Page. She’s ready to expand. She’s been ready for a while.

“I figured this would happen,” Russell said. “I thought, ‘What can I do? This is awful. What can I do?’ ”

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