When the coronavirus pandemic hit, so did the Pandemic of Love.
Pandemic of Love is a grassroots volunteer organization created by Shelly Tygielski, a mindfulness teacher and community organizer from South Florida.
Tygielski wanted to help her own local community and pair people in need with people who can help. Soon after starting the project, Pandemic of Love spread far beyond South Florida. Volunteers around the world started local chapters and so far the organization has paired nearly 1 million volunteers and families in need.
Beth Eiglarsh, a mom from Hollywood, Florida, signed up as a volunteer at the start of the pandemic. She was paired with a man from New York, who started out as a stranger but became a good friend.
That man was Sean Noriega, a former New York City school teacher who left work after being diagnosed with throat cancer.
Noriega fell on hard times in 2020, and through Pandemic of Love, Eiglarsh was supposed to help him buy groceries. She did much more than that.
"What's also nice about Pandemic of Love, when you're basically put into the life of somebody else, is you learn about them," Eiglarsh told CBS News. "You learn about their day-to-day, you learn about their restrictions. And given his condition with his throat, he can't eat everything."
Noriega explained that Eiglarsh researched what he could and couldn't eat with throat cancer and sent him a package of food that was nearly 40 pounds. "She really did a wonderful, wonderful job," he said.
However, there was something else in the package that ended up changing his life. "I also sent some money and that's how it all started," Eiglarsh said.
Noriega needed some medical exams done, but had been putting off his doctor appointments. With the extra money from Eiglarsh, he was able to schedule one.
"Part of the money that Beth had sent me went for my transportation to go there, the copayment," he said. "And as it was, when I went there, the doctor did find something else."
"Realistically, if it were not for Beth's help, I probably would not be healthy enough to sit here and talk to you," Noriega continued.
Now, Noriega regards Eiglarsh as his guardian angel. "When I say she saved my life, I don't take that figuratively, I mean she literally did," he said.
The pair are not alone in the Pandemic of Love. The group says there are over 1,200 volunteers globally who have started 220 local Pandemic of Love chapters and made more than 375,000 matches with those in need.
For Eiglarsh and Noriega, their friendship will last far longer than the pandemic. "Every morning I text him, 'Good morning, sunshine.' And he texts me back, 'Good morning, angel,'" Eiglarsh said.
"And when I use the word angel, I don't use it lightly. I really do mean that word literally, because this lady saved my life," Noriega added.
Noriega spoke so highly of Eiglarsh she was nearly brought to tears. The two said when they are able to travel, they plan on finally meeting in person. "Beth has promised me a trip to New York. And I'm going to hold her on that," Noriega said.
"I can't wait to hug you," Eiglarsh replied.
"Everyone has bad things to say about the pandemic. It's not a good thing. But I gained one of the best gifts of my life in her friendship," Noriega said.
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