GREENSBORO — Could anyone have ever imagined a time when toilet paper would be so scarce that for someone to get their hands on a single roll would seem like divine intervention?
“It’s truly a blessing from God,” Addie Carson said.
As Carson walked away Monday with a bag containing the aforementioned toilet paper, paper towels and a bottle of Pine-Sol, you’d think she just won the lottery.
And in a way, she had.
That’s because Charlene Lehew — “Char” to most people — randomly picked Carson’s neighborhood to distribute bags of personal-hygiene products and household cleaners for residents struggling to get by during the coronavirus pandemic.
Lehew was moved to do so after seeing news reports of COVID-19 outbreaks popping up in low-income neighborhoods around the country.
“I kept thinking there’s gotta be something I can do to help,” Lehew said.
Rewind to last week. Lehew called friends for donations of hand sanitizer, bleach and soap — everyday items that are like gold these days.
“One friend in Durham shipped me 144 bars of antibacterial soap,” Lehew said.
Another friend in West Virginia sent 48 rolls of toilet paper.
Lehew portioned the items into bags she called COVID-19 Care Kits.
With the kits ready to be distributed, Lehew just needed to find a neighborhood. So she got into her pickup and drove around until she stopped at some apartments near Cone Boulevard and Summit Avenue. There, Lehew handed out more than 100 care kits.
On Sunday, she was back in her pickup, looking for the next neighborhood. She ended up on a grid of streets near Golden Gate Shopping Center that in its heyday was populated with people who made a life working for nearby Cone Mills.
If Lehew spotted anyone in their yard, she told them she planned to return Monday with her kits.
She recalled stopping at one house where some elderly men were on a porch.
“I explained what I was doing and one of them asked if I was bringing food,” Lehew said.
She said the men looked destitute and the house appeared to have no electricity.
“I didn’t think I could handle it anymore because it’s really sad. It just eats me up,” Lehew said.
Then she saw some kids playing on a broken trampoline in a yard. A shirtless, shoeless boy of about six approached her.
“He asked: ‘Do you have any food I can have?’” Lehew recounted. “I almost went to my knees. I cried all the way home.”
She knew she had to return.
“I live in a big, beautiful home in an amazing neighborhood,” Lehew said. “Now, I find myself humiliated.”
She texted friends for donations. Some went shopping. Others emptied their pantries.
Which brings us to Monday around 5 p.m. Lehew parked her truck at the intersection of 14th and Spruce streets. Lehew, husband Warren and two of her friends waited.
Residents were reluctant at first, but gradually about 30 or so gravitated to Lehew’s truck and walked away with bags of cleaning supplies. They also got small boxes filled with fruit, canned food, cereal, oatmeal and other staples.
Children from a nearby house beamed as they walked away with armloads of granola bars and juice boxes.
Denise Roach came out on her porch to survey things and then walked over to get something for herself.
“I haven’t been to the grocery store in weeks. It’s hard to get anything,” Roach said.
As Bobby Haynie shuffled away with a bag of toilet paper and a box of Vienna sausages, he said: “This is how God intended for us to be. Not at each other, but for each other.”
Lehew said she plans to do one more drop. She doesn’t know yet when or where, but has already gotten donations, including a shipment of 44 bars of antibacterial soap.
“These people need help,” Lehew said. “There’s neighborhoods like this everywhere.”
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