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Mabble Media, a creative agency specializing in branding, design and websites in Midtown Reno, immediately felt the pandemic's effects.
About 80 percent of the company's projects were canceled or put on hold. Clients stopped answering phone calls and emails.
Bobby Stiehler, a co-owner of Mabble Media, did not want to lay off his 10 staff members, but there was not much work he could give his employees, so he looked for an alternative.
"We have a special talent for building something and bringing people together," Stiehler said. "So we figured instead of just offering to help a certain group of people or a specific person, we would build a system where people can kind of help each other."
The idea sparked the creation of a Facebook Group called Wash-oe Hands, offering Washoe County residents a way to connect and share resources.
"We like a good pun," Stiehler said, referring to the name with a laugh. "The situation is critical, and it's important and it's dangerous and we want to take it seriously, but at the same time, our company has always been the ones that were like, well, let's also laugh a little bit through this."
He thought of the project as a small endeavor that might help a few people but quickly found that the outcomes far exceeded his expectations.
Five hundred people joined the group on the first day. One thousand people the next. Less than two months later, the group has more than 4,300 members.
Members of Wash-oe Hands are now part of the more than 4.5 million people in the United States who joined COVID-19 support groups on Facebook since the pandemic began, a Facebook spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added that Facebook groups, designed to build virtual communities based on shared interests, are now connecting displaced college students with food, housing and transportation and medical professionals with information and resources.
Stiehler was astounded by the number of users on the Facebook group and the high amount of aid requests and offers. However, when his team started following up with users, he realized the project was not working as planned.
"Nobody's needs were getting met. Everybody was posting needs. Everybody was posting how they could help. No one was actually helping," he said.
To solve the problem, Mabble Media created a website matching people in need with those offering help. In the first few weeks of its opening, the site helped individuals receive masks, financial assistance, groceries and other necessities.
Wash-oe Hands’s relief fund, supported by local donations, gave $575 worth of groceries and $930 in assistance for bills to three local organizations and 17 families in Washoe County between April 15 and May 10.
Even though Stiehler was excited about the platform, he said he was more heartened by the number of people offering volunteer services, making masks for people or dropping off groceries. One translator helped a local business with Spanish translations for loan applications, for example.
"Some of [the volunteers] are giving a full time job's worth of hours a week in order to get things translated, so a Spanish speaking community can have the same resources," he said.
Since the website's creation, Stiehler said the Facebook group is more of a community page for discussions and quick questions such as where to find toilet paper or how to make a mask. He added that his team has been helping people learn how to write Facebook posts that are straightforward and ask for something directly.
One of the difficulties Wash-oe Hands is facing is that more people are offering help than those asking for it. Stiehler said people who may need the aid may not know about the website and he is looking to partner with nonprofits and other groups to increase Wash-oe Hands' reach.
To pay for the site and his team, Stiehler is using Mabble Media's savings and taking each day as it comes.
"Our goal for our team is to keep us together, keep us working. That looks very different now," he said. "Now we're together on Zoom calls and now we're working on disaster relief stuff. But it's important that we're still doing what we can."
As for the future, he's not sure what will happen but is open to continuing the project.
"Part of me would like Wash-oe Hands to continue in community mutual aid," he said. "If, when the stay at home order is all done and we all go back to work and like, no one needs this anymore, we're happy to just close the door and go back to the regular work.”