Des Moines How Can We Help You Facebook Group

Des Moines, How Can We Help You? | The Helpers Next Door

Apr 26, 2020  | 105

by Emily Blobaum

As a lifelong Des Moines resident and transportation industry worker, Kevin Williamson has seen the city grow and evolve. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, he created the “Des Moines, How can we help you?” Facebook group in March to connect community members with each other. Along with his daughters and a few others, he serves as an administrator of the group to facilitate and monitor posts. It has since grown tremendously, now home to 12,000 members with more than 150,000 posts and comments.

How and why did you create the group?
To be honest with you, the whole thing came up in a prayer. About 6 weeks ago when the coronavirus started to develop I thought, “What can I do to make a difference?” The thought of making a Facebook group kept floating around in my head. At first, I disregarded it and thought, “That’s crazy, that’s not going to be impactful.” That idea kept coming back, so I threw up my arms and said, “What the heck, I’ll give it a shot.”

I developed a simple group and invited all of my Facebook friends. It became kind of obsessive at first. I would be on it constantly, trying to give feedback and kudos to people. The craziest thing that’s come out of this is waking up in the morning and seeing posts asking where to find toilet paper and people responding, “I saw some at the HyVee on Fleur, they’ve got plenty there!” It’s been really humbling for me. We’re just here to help. And I can see this site actually continuing beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

It seems like managing a Facebook group of this size could be a full-time job in itself. What is it like being an administrator?
The more time that you put into it, the more responses you get. I’d say I devote 5 hours a day to it. I get home from work and I’m on it. Really, it’s just going through everything to make sure it’s going smoothly and posts are positive. My two daughters and two other ladies are helping as admins — we’re all monitoring posts.

I don’t add too many posts except for weekly updates about how we’re doing overall. I share that with the group: how many members we have, encouragement and a thank-you to everyone for being a part of the group. It’s amazing how humanity has really developed on this page.

How have you seen the group evolve?
That first day was crazy. I didn’t really expect a whole lot of action, but right away people were saying, “This is great, I want to help.” At first, they wanted to donate toilet paper. Now it’s developed into its own thing where it does actually run itself.

The members of this group are so amazing. They are so caring, they really give encouragement to each other. They offer advice — sometimes good advice, sometimes bad advice — but they’ll go back and forth and have those healthy debates with each other. I’ve seen information on getting stimulus checks and unemployment bonuses. So it’s gone from “Where can I get the toilet paper?” to, “How can I get some help?” It’s developed into a bigger and greater thing.

The apartment fires that happened not too long ago? People got right on it offering to donate beds and clothes. One day, a lady posted that she had a bunch of food packaged up. She left the box of food in the park and let people know where they could pick it up. They were practicing social distancing and helping each other out by providing food aid. We’ve got friends that work at nail salons. They’re out of work right now and the owner offered up all her masks and gloves to one of the hospitals — that was a really cool moment. I think the end result of this is that it’s brought humanity together, and brought us the community that we desperately needed.

What have you seen out of the people of Des Moines on this page?
I’m pretty close to Des Moines. I’m in my retirement years now, but I worked at Des Moines Public Schools as a logistics specialist for 20 years. I finished out my career at Norwalk as their transportation director. I’ve always been in that “people” position, and I can tell you that when it comes to the people of Des Moines, that “Iowa Nice” saying is exactly right.

All in all, we really do have each other’s backs when it gets tough, and there’s a lot of really good, caring people in Iowa. We’ve got a beautiful big city with a small town feel. I just love Des Moines. [My wife and I] are really proud of this city and how it’s developed. I’m just really proud to be a part of this.

Editor’s note: This interview was edited and condensed for clarity. Photos courtesy of Kevin Williamson.