Ryan Spiegel and his friends Ben and Jonah Gleeman self-quarantined with their families in East Hampton when the coronavirus pandemic descended on New York in March, and even though they continued to attend their New York City high schools virtually, the three 16-year-olds found themselves with a lot of free time on their hands.
One day, when Ben and Jonah drove past the East Hampton Village train station, they talked about the day laborers they used to see there and wondered how they were coping.
Around the same time, Ryan heard from Diego Palomo, the junior minister at the Vida Abundante New York Church in Amagansett, who had been the boys’ counselor at the Hampton Country Day Camp. Mr. Palomo told Ryan that members of his congregation were struggling to feed themselves because of the widespread unemployment brought on by the pandemic.
The three, who said their parents and their schools had instilled in them the importance of giving back to the community, got down to work.
“We wanted to create the simplest way for someone to donate while maintaining social distance,” Ryan said. “We wanted a speedy process, so people didn’t go hungry,” Jonah added.
The result is Doorstep Donations, which the three young men see as an efficient — and safe — way to collect donations for the needy.
Under their system, someone who wants to make a donation is simply asked to visit the group’s website, doorstepdonations.com. At the website, they can enter their address and the time they will leave their donation of food or other needed items such as toilet paper, tooth brushes, or even masks and gloves on their front porch for pickup.
“Our team then disinfects the donations and puts together care packages for households in need,” Ryan said.
A few short weeks into the effort, Doorstep Donations has been asked to pick up more than 20 donations and raised more than $8,000 in donations to their GoFundMe page.
A $2,000 donation has been made to the Windmill Village senior apartments to help senior citizens in need; the boys are looking for other recipients.
The three have solicited donations by reaching out to family and friends, letting them know Doorstep Donations has been launched, and encouraging them to reach out to their family and friends as well.
“This model incentivizes donations because you don’t have to leave your home,” Ryan said. “We think it can extend well beyond the coronavirus.”
“Everyone wants to donate, but they don’t always know how,” Ben said.
The three are already planning to expand their efforts. They have worked with another camp friend to launch a site in Scarsdale and combined forces with another group that started a similar website in Port Washington. Now they are setting their sights on Manhattan, although they realize the model will have to be tweaked to work in the city.
“I never thought I’d live to see something like this,” Ryan said of the pandemic that has shut down most of day-to-day life.
“This is a piece of history that is going to be remembered for a long time,” Jonah added. “I want to make the best of the situation we’re in.”