GREENSBORO — Martha Garrett knew yoga could help people cope with the fear, uncertainty and stress that came along with the pandemic.
With her daughter's technical and marketing know-how, Garrett was able to switch to virtual sessions when in-person classes were closed down because of COVID-19.
"I hadn't even heard of Zoom a year ago," said Garrett, who has been a yoga instructor for 25 years and is now hosting classes every week from her at-home studio.
She also has used her yoga as a way to help organizations in need, donating money raised by what are now monthly "pay what you can" classes.
Money from her next fundraiser on Saturday will go to Out of the Garden Project.
The charitable yoga sessions started after Garrett's daughter, Georgia Frierson, arrived in Greensboro in mid-March. She had left New York seeking a less-crowded environment to ride out the pandemic. Mother and daughter decided to team up and make Garrett's goal of bringing yoga to the community a reality.
With a website and a newsletter created by Frierson, Garrett was able to establish an online presence, reaching more people and offering virtual yoga classes.
Due in part to her uncertainty about whether her classes would be "any good" online, Garrett said she decided to make them "pay what you can."
But the money she did raise, Garrett wasn't looking to keep. She and Frierson decided the profits would instead be donated to different charitable organizations.
They started with organizations in New York City, where the COVID-19 pandemic weighed heavy those first few months.
It wasn't the first time Garrett had combined charity and yoga. As a teacher at the Triad Yoga Institute, she was part of an annual day of classes designed to benefit animal rescue.
"It was kind of an easy thing for me to do because I had an established group of people familiar with me," she said.
Garrett later began picking local organizations to support.
Within the first month, the students donated over $800 to Mount Sinai Health Systems, Feed The Frontlines, Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC and the International Rescue Committee. The Thursday classes continued gaining momentum with thousands of dollars raised for nonprofits, including several civil rights organizations after the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
As the pandemic stretched into the summer months, news came that Triad Yoga Institute, like so many businesses, was struggling as a result of COVID-19 regulations that forced businesses to shut down.
"They were contemplating just shutting down altogether or waiting it out," said Garrett, who has taught at the studio for 20 years.
With the help of Sheila Wenzel, another longtime Triad Yoga Institute instructor, Garrett and Frierson decided they would host a virtual, weekend-long "yogathon" to raise money for Greensboro's oldest yoga studio.
They hoped to raise $10,000 to help cover the studio's monthly expenses — rent, utilities and insurance. The yogathon brought in $20,880.
Triad Yoga Institute co-owner Jerry Cunningham was stunned when he heard what Garrett and others had done.
"They planned it behind our back because they knew I wouldn't have gone for that," Cunningham said. "I'm not a person to take things. I'm a giver."
He called Garrett's act of kindness "unbelievable" and is amazed at the generosity from both the yoga teachers and students who donated their time and money.
"We're so thankful that it happened," Cunningham said. "It got us in a better position."
Since the fundraiser, Cunningham said he and co-owner Terry Brown were able to reopen the studio at a limited capacity in September. They also continue to host virtual classes that they began when the pandemic first shut them down in March.
"Now, we're going to be around until we can fully reopen," Cunningham said.
In August, Garrett returned to her full-time job teaching art at a Kernersville high school.
And she still teaches yoga. On Mondays and Thursdays, it's traditional online classes, but on Saturdays, she continues to offer donation-based virtual classes or outdoor yoga classes to raise money for various causes.
She said it's "absolutely" something she sees herself doing even after the pandemic ends. In part, it's to maintain a connection that has become increasingly difficult to find during the pandemic.
"I feel still connected to my students," Garrett said of the virtual sessions. "It’s really great to still be able to be with them."
But she also wants to continue helping local organizations, like Saturday's benefit for Out of the Garden Project, an organization dedicated to providing food for families in the Triad.
Garrett said she felt particularly drawn to donating to the group after a recent visit to the Smith Homes area of Greensboro.
"I realized people in that area have no place to buy groceries," she said. "Lots don't have cars.
"It really got to me. I can just get in my car and go to Whole Foods."
Contact Jamie Biggs at 336-373-4476 and follow @JamieBiggsNR on Twitter.