Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Creating a Pandemic of Love With Shelly Tygielski
[00:00:03] PF: Welcome to Episode 344 of Live Happy Now. When the pandemic began last year, traditional ways of volunteering and helping others completely disappeared. But today’s guest found a way to bring people together by creating a pandemic of her own.
I’m your host, Paula Felps. And this week, I’m joined by Shelly Tygielski, a meditation teacher and mom, who started a movement from her kitchen table in March of 2020. As she read through her messages and emails about the ways people were being affected by COVID-19, she saw people filled with fears of losing their jobs, not having enough food, and not being able to pay their bills. But she also saw many people who wanted to help, and she came up with a plan to connect the people who need help with the people who were able to give help. Her efforts went viral, kicking off what became known as Pandemic of Love, a global grassroots mutual aid organization. By March of 2021, Pandemic of Love had matched more than 1.5 million people and had allowed donors to directly give $54 million to those in need. Shelly is here today to talk about how this movement caught fire, how it changed the lives of those who were able to help each other, how it’s still thriving today, and how you can be a part of it.
[00:01:24] PF: Shelly, welcome to Live Happy Now.
[00:01:26] ST: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so happy to be here today.
[00:01:29] PF: Well, we have so much to talk about, because you got two big things that I’m really excited about. And so I wondered if, first, we can talk about Pandemic of Love.
[00:01:40] ST: Okay.
[00:01:41] PF: All right. Well, this is something that is so incredible. People say that 2020 was such a horrible year. And you really found a way to make something beautiful come out of it. So can you explain to us what pandemic of love is?
[00:01:54] ST: Sure. So Pandemic of Love, in its simplest iteration, is a mutual aid community. It happens to be global in nature. And what mutual aid is, is it’s basically a way for individuals within a community, whether it’s a small community or a large one, to transact, and provide access and information to other individuals within that community so that people who are in need can have that need met by somebody who has that piece of the puzzle that they need, so to speak. And people who have excess are able to find people that they can give to. So it really creates this beautiful redistribution of wealth. And we see this in nature all the time, in natural ecosystems, whether it’s in a rainforest, or coral reef system, etc., how there’s the symbiotic relationships.
And for some reason, humans, we used to do that really well when we had that clan mentality, when we were nomadic, when we sort of really communed with nature. But as we became more and more industrialized, as we moved to the suburbs, as we move to the cities, as we became technological creatures, we sort of started getting away from this reliance on one another. So mutual aid really is a fantastic way to get back to the basics, the reality that humans need each other. That we need each other to survive, and we always have. But that, really, in this age of our discussions around self-care, that human beings need something. They need to lean on each other in order to thrive, not just survive. So that’s really the framing of it.
[00:03:42] PF: Can you explain what it is and how it’s set up?
[00:03:45] ST: Yeah. So it’s simple. There’re two forms, if you go to the website, which is pandemicoflove.com. And there’s two simple forms, give help, get help. That’s it. It’s that simple. So if you’re in a position, if you’re a person that is in a position to fill somebody’s gas tank this month, or buy groceries for a week for a family of four, or make sure that somebody doesn’t lose their heat this winter. If you’re in that kind of a position where you have enough, or a little bit more than enough, and you’re able to give, you click on the give help form. And we connect you to somebody that’s most likely within your community, sometimes within your state. And if there’s no micro community within your geographic area, then it might be somebody that’s out of state.
But basically, we connect you to somebody that has that very specific need that you’ve identified that you have the capacity to fill. And the beautiful part about Pandemic of Love is that there’s no sort of middleman. In other words, our volunteers are over 4000 volunteers, don’t connect you or take the funds and then distribute it to the person in need. But rather, we connect the individual in need and the individual that is willing to help them directly. So they have to have a conversation. They have to have a human connection. And I think that is really what resonated with a lot of people during the pandemic, especially when this organization started, because so many people, of course, wanted to be able to help. But the traditional ways of being able to volunteer were not available to us. And people just didn’t know how they could help. But also, it was a time of disconnection. So the fact that we were able to connect people did really more than just pay people’s bills. It helped to create friendships and reduce loneliness, and really allow a person who may have not been as affected by the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic, walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes that may be living just a few blocks from where they are, and really understand sort of the plight of many Americans and many people all over the world who are just really struggling to survive on a day to day basis.
[00:05:58] PF: So how did you set it up and get it rolling? Because there were so many obstacles during that time. As you said, we weren’t able to do the traditional methods of just going out and doing things. So how did you get this whole ball rolling?
[00:06:14] ST: Well, I didn’t overthink it. And that’s really the key here. I think a lot of times we overthink things and prevent ourselves from actually ever launching or doing anything. I basically just looked to the people in my community. I didn’t set out to say like, “Hey, I’m going to build this giant mutual aid community that’s global. And we’re going to do this.” No. I basically said, “Look, I know that there are people within my local community that have needs. And I know that there are people who have more than enough.” And so I really just want to connect the two of them. How can I do that most efficiently and not get in the way? And I thought, “Okay, I’ll just create two simple Google Forms, which is what I did. And the forms, again, were give help and get help. And they just had very simple questions. And as the forum started to come in, I started to recruit volunteers, people who had extra time to give, to help to connect people, to read through the forms of the people in need and connect them in a very respectful manner to people who were able to fill that need, and make sure that that transaction took place.
And what happened was, is that once I posted those two links, those two links went pun intended, but they went viral. And they went all around the world and came back. And people like Maria Shriver, and people like Kristen Bell, and just a lot of different influencers began to repost the links. And before I knew it, something that I had just started for the local community became a movement, a movement that is now in 280 communities around 16 countries, and that has connected over 2 million people, and that has transacted over $16 million amongst those people directly, which is pretty amazing.
[00:08:00] PF: That’s incredible.
[00:08:01] ST: Yeah.
[00:08:02] PF: Why do you think it caught on so well?
[00:08:05] ST: I definitely think timing was one part of it. I think the fact that I started this on March 14th, while people were still sort of scrambling to figure out like, “What is this? And how long is this going to happen? Are we going to be in lockdown for a week?” I was already in that mode of like organizing and mobilizing, because I had done it so many times before, post-natural disasters for my own community as a community organizer, after mass shootings, and so forth. So I already had sort of those tools in my toolbox. And so I think timing was a really big part of it. The fact that we were, if you will, first to market was huge.
And I think that because it was like organized well. I think that my 20 plus years in the corporate world certainly did me some favors in terms of helping me figure out how to organize data, and efficiently connect people, and manage processes, and scale things, right? So that was certainly very helpful as well.
[00:09:05] PF: Now, I know that you have a lot of stories from people who benefited from receiving. What about the people who were giving? What did it do to the people who are able to offer something during a time when we really needed to connect with one another?
[00:09:21] ST: Well, I think it gives you a certain measure of gratitude and a reality check. Because I think so many of us spend most of our lives living in a bubble. We really get to this point where we want to just create a life of comfort for ourselves. And I don’t mean necessarily comfort like in riches. But I mean, we just want to avoid, as human beings, as much discomfort as possible, right? And so we don’t make the effort to say go into places that we may feel are not for us, or are beneath us, if you will, or that we wouldn’t be welcome. Or we tell ourselves these narratives and these like stories about why we wouldn’t want to have a difficult conversation with somebody or probe the neighboring community and understand like what is really going on there and how can we change the systems or effectuate change in those communities.
And so I think that it gave people a lens into what other people’s lives are really like, other people’s lives that are in their ZIP code. And I think for many people, it was an eye opener. It was really just a shift. An opportunity to shift and to lean into the fact that, “Yes, I’m lucky. Yes, I should have an immense amount of gratitude. But also, I really need to be more aware about what is happening in my own community, and how I can actually, yes, effect change, and make the difference in the life of even one person.” And that is enough. If we all just did that every single day, we made a difference in the lives of just one person a day. The toll of that is huge.
[00:11:06] PF: Yeah. What an incredible ripple effect it can have. And speaking of ripple effects, did you anticipate that it would still be going on this later? And that it’s going to continue to go on?
[00:11:18] ST: Yeah. Well, because I think that the way that we designed it was that we wanted to make sure that there are community leaders and that people are really building community. Like they’re building connections with each other and creating true safety nets that can be long lasting. Typically speaking, mutual aid organizations tend to rise up like after natural disasters, and after like pandemics, obviously, but after like something harrowing happens within a community and then they sort of fizzle away.
And the idea that we could possibly always have this notion and this beautiful system for giving and receiving without the stigma of feeling like we’re lacking, or that we aren’t enough, or that we have issues with asking for help, which are all associated with the culture that we live in. If we can kind of build that safety net within our own micro-communities, then yes, it could be something that is sustainable. So it has surprised me in a way that it went on this long. But I also recognize that people were finally receiving something and enabled to give something in a way that they weren’t ever able to do it before with just the traditional structures that have been put in place for giving, like nonprofit organizations, or religious organizations, etc.
[00:12:41] PF: And I know for myself, my giving shifted with the pandemic, because I really did feel that sense of I want to help people in my own backyard. I know on a level there’s always been that need there. But this really magnified it for me. And so how has it changed entire communities for people to do that instead of maybe – Well, maybe they’re still sending money to overseas or other causes that they support, but to really look at what’s going on in their own community and realize how great the need is. How has that changed things?
[00:13:14] ST: Well, there’s a beautiful Buddhist proverb that says, “Tend to the area of the garden that you can reach.”
[00:13:19] PF: Oh, I love that.
[00:13:21] ST: And really, I think that’s where it hits home for most people. They realize, “I’m so busy tending to gardens that are not even within my vicinity, and that I’m so busy also looking at what other people are doing in their own gardens, instead of looking at my own wilting garden. And if I could focus on making sure that the people within my ripples within my circles of influence are okay, that they have enough, that they have their needs met, that they are not struggling to survive, then everybody within my circle of influence can have the opportunity to thrive.
[00:14:02] PF: That’s such a fantastic mindset to adopt. And so where is it now? Where’s Pandemic of Love at? And what are you seeing for the future?
[00:14:11] ST: So Pandemic of Love is we have an incredible advisory board. We are still very active, as I said, in micro-communities around the world. And kind of where we’re shifting on a macro level is we want to be just the experts, if you will, or the go-to for people about mutual aid. So what we’re working on is creating these templates that are replicable and exportable, and sort of mutual aid in a box if you will, so that people could just come to our website and download very simple instructions and best practices and then be plugged into communities that can continue to share best practices, etc. And essentially just continue to build out what the mutual aid structure could look like if it existed in all of our communities. And if it was formalized, if it was institutionalized even within municipalities. Like just like we have a city hall, and a fire department, and a library. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for every single community to also have a formalized or institutionalized mutual aid community in a way for people to be able to just give?
[00:15:26] PF: That’s terrific and a wonderful vision you have. That’s so impressive that you’re able to just unfold all this and let us walk into it and help one another.
[00:15:34] ST: I mean, it’s a collective vision, really. It really has been like this beautiful building block process. Again, it started with just the proverbial throwing a pebble in the water and seeing what kind of a ripple it can generate and the contribution of so many other pebbles that have been thrown into the water at the same time. So that’s the beautiful part about this, is that we’ve been learning how to fly the plane as we’re building it.
[00:16:03] PF: And you’re flying it very beautifully, and building it so well. So I know, yeah, we will put a landing page on this and let people know how they can participate and take them directly to your site so that they can do more with it.
[00:16:16] ST: Thank you so much. I appreciate that.
[00:16:21] PF: That was Shelly Tygielski, talking about the movement she launched called Pandemic of Law. Next week, we’re going beyond the Pandemic of Love movement and talking to Shelly about her new book, Sit Down to Rise Up: How Radical Self-Care Can Change the Community. If you’d like to learn more about Shelly, be part of Pandemic of Love, or follow her on social media. Visit our website at live happy.com and click on the podcast link. And if you still have some holiday shopping to do, we’ve got you covered. Visit our store at livehappy.com and check out our new Live Happy beanies and hoodies so you can give the gift of happiness to everyone on your list. We offer free shipping on orders of $75. And if you use the code LIVEHAPPYNOW, we’ll give you 10% off your entire order.
That’s all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all new episode. And until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.