As the year 2020 draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on what we saw, endured and discovered. One thing we all learned is that Birmingham is a strong and resilient community of people who work together in the face of hardship. To the many people who stepped up this year to flex their superhero muscles, we created a list of local heroes as a way to say thank you.
The words “thank you” don’t fully express our gratitude to the incredible healthcare workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re the most courageous of us all, leading by example and reporting the facts to the rest of us.
From doctors and nurses who help patients and families in their scariest moments to the hospital staff that keep the equipment operational and the buildings in tip top shape, your dedication to teamwork and to the greater good does not go unnoticed. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 👏🏻
2. Healthcare workers from a distance
In many ways, we all found ourselves on the frontlines of something this year. Some of us were in hospitals and clinics, some were in school classrooms and others were on the frontlines at home, juggling work online and helping teach our children virtually. We all deserve a little pat on the back for our perseverance and endurance this year.
Here are a few extraordinary workers who made our list of 2020 heroes:
Dr. Michael Saag
For almost 40 years, Dr. Michael Saag has been at the forefront of the battle against HIV/AIDS. Currently, he’s the Stanley Chair in AIDS Research and the Director of the Center for AIDS Research at UAB’s School of Medicine. While he, of course, gets major applause for these roles, he’s also on our list of 2020 heroes.
- He contracted—and recovered—from COVID-19.
- He sat alongside Dr. Anthony Fauci (yeah, that one) on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal Prime Time” during a Q + A on the National Fight Against COVID-19. Check out the full story here.
Dr. Jarralynne Agee
Dr. Jarralynne Agee, Vice President of Miles College, donated her kidney to Gary Burley, NFL defense end with the Cincinnati Bengals and the Atlanta Falcons.
Not only did her brave donation change her and Gary’s lives, but it also made a much bigger impact. In the wake of her donation, Birmingham’s Mayor Randall Woodfin signed a Human Resources policy that gives City of Birmingham employees up to four weeks of paid leave when donating an organ. Read the full story here.
Dr. Gary Edwards
It was in June that Birmingham grieved the life of beloved United Ability CEO Dr. Gary Edwards.
Known for being a state and national advocate for people with disabilities and their families, Dr. Edwards held the title of CEO at United Ability for nearly 38 years. During this time, he helped the organization grow. Once serving just a few hundred in Birmingham, today United Ability now helps over 5,700.
3. Mask Creators
“Wear your mask.” “Don’t forget your mask.” “I can’t believe I forgot my mask.”
How many times have you heard or said this during the year 2020? It has to be at least a million. While we may be tired of seeing them, wearing them and talking about them, we have to give a major thank you to the many, many people in Birmingham who spent countless hours creating face masks and shields to help keep us safe.
Here are just a few:
While there are too many to name individually, many local Birmingham crafters sat for countless hours behind sewing machines to make reusable masks for the daily use of individuals.
One group is Bham Face Masks. As of April 26, 2020, the group donated 58,942 masks.
Bham Support is a group of local volunteers in Birmingham who makes reusable face shields via 3D printers.
As of May 2020, they made and donated more than 2,800 reusable face shields to Birmingham-area healthcare workers. Places include Grandview, Children’s of Alabama, St. Vincent’s, Shelby Baptist, Home Hospice Care, Haynes Ambulance, local fire departments and dentists and more.
Students from The Altamont School
Meghan Goyal (10th grade) and Noah Warren (9th grade), both students of The Altamont School teamed up with computer science teacher Ryan James to engineer protective shields for healthcare workers throughout Birmingham.
By April, the students successfully modeled their face shields and distributed them to nine locations across Alabama including:
- Cancer wards
- Diabetic patient wards
- Emergency rooms
- Infectious COVID-19 units
- Organ-transplant wards
4. Small Businesses
While small businesses struggled in 2020, some tapped into their creativity and skillsets to help in a big way during the pandemic.
Dread River Distilling Co
Toilet paper wasn’t the only thing that quickly vanished from store shelves when the pandemic hit—hand sanitizer did too.
By March, Dread River Distilling Company had created 450+ gallons of hand sanitizer in Birmingham.
While the distillery initially prioritized hand sanitizer requests for healthcare and first responders, they later expanded their efforts to include local businesses and individuals.
In May, Birmingham-based, data-driven company software MotionMobs made headlines in the New York Times for the development of a new contact tracing app. Its purpose—to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
The app was first used by students and employees of UAB as they headed back to campus for classes.
For another local COVID-19 contract tracing app, check out GuideSafe here.
5. Local Teachers
If 2020 showed us anything, it’s that our teachers go to unbelievable lengths to educate our kids. From virtual teaching to in-person instruction, being an educator during a pandemic takes incredible effort and patience.
Nobody is more grateful than parents who saw firsthand just how hard it is to teach their own kids. It’s me, I’m parents.
6. Parents, you deserve a thank you, too
This year was definitely hard on parents, too. From changes at work to becoming virtual teachers and trying to keep life as normal as possible, the list of amazing things you conquered in 2020 is endless. While your kids may not be doling out thanks you’s, we know we’re keeping our families together and keeping things flowing in the midst of many difficult challenges.
7. Those who kept us fed
While many of us were able to hunker down at home and avoid leaving our houses in 2020, others were still out there working to ensure others needs were met. What would we have done this year if things like grocery stores and personal shopping apps had gone obsolete? My realest answer—I have absolutely no idea!
Here’s who makes our hero list for helping feed the Greater Birmingham Area:
- Community Food Bank of Central Alabama
- Jones Valley Teaching Farm
- Grocery Store Workers/Personal Shoppers
- Local school systems that organized and distributed meals to thousands of local students
8. Organizations who provided grants
Birmingham is home to many organizations that strived to help those affected by the pandemic. Here are a few that wowed us with their generosity:
#BhamStrong became, in many ways, the 2020 anthem for Birmingham. But where did it stem from? The answer is a public-private partnership entitled BhamStrong which formed to strengthen Birmingham’s COVID-19 response. To do this, they supplied grants to many in need, including small businesses, unemployed workers and residents.
According to BhamStrong’s website, along with help from their partners, they have served:
- 2,800+ small businesses
- 300+ unemployed workers
- 8,800+ residents
United Way of Central Alabama
The pandemic led to unemployment rates skyrocketing across the state of Alabama. To help, United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA) stepped in.
In March, they created the COVID-19 Community Crises Fund, which allowed them to award grants to local nonprofit organizations within their five-county area.
UWCA also surpassed their goal by $1.5M for the Because of You Hope Happens campaign which launched in September.
YMCA + Levite Jewish Community Center
In March, the YMCA and Levite Jewish Community Center (LJCC), closed their doors due to COVID-19. But they didn’t sit idly by as the needs of their community grew. Instead, they sprang into action by mobilizing and directing their resources to provide emergency childcare for frontline workers in healthcare and food services and rolled up their sleeves in support of blood drives.
Here are some stats:
- From March to June, the YMCA + LJCC provided 3200 hours of childcare combined.
- The LJCC’s food program served more than 1,300 meals.
- The YMCA’s partnership with American Red Cross yielded 150 units of blood from blood drives held at their locations.
Again, thank you to Birmingham’s 2020 heroes. We couldn’t have made it through this year without you.