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Robert Gehrke: This tough year has included so many inspiring acts

(Photo Courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare) Intermountain medical staff flew to New York to help fight the coronavirus there.

There’s something different about Thanksgiving this year. If you don’t believe me, turn on the Macy’s parade and watch Snoopy being hauled down an empty New York City street.

More than that, though, this year has been grueling — the tension, the division, topped off with the threat of losing what brought us joy, our livelihoods jeopardized, our health and loved ones threatened.

For too many, those losses have been a tragic reality.

For the rest of us, our lives have been so demolished it is hard to muster the normal feeling of festivity and holiday gratitude.

We have been forced to recalibrate our expectations. In the process, however, I’ve found that I appreciate things on a level I didn’t before, confronted with the recognition of how tenuous it all is.

Through that new lens, even in all of the disruption, we can see the acts of remarkable kindness of so many people around us, the things big and small that pulled us through this year — so many inspiring acts that we can’t help but feel that feeling of gratitude.

• How could we talk about gratitude in a pandemic without discussing the doctors, nurses and public health workers who have been working themselves to utter exhaustion trying to save lives. From April, when a group from Intermountain Healthcare essentially ran into the burning building, flying to New York to lend their help during the early, deadly peak there, to these recent weeks when Utah hospitals have been teetering on collapse, these men and women have been heroic in their efforts. There is nothing we could do to adequately convey our gratitude. But staying home and wearing a mask is a good start.

• Teachers have been put in an almost impossible situation, pitting their commitment to their students against the risk of contracting the coronavirus. They have proven to be devoted, adaptable, resilient and have of course not been given enough credit for their work. Almost 1,600 teachers have been infected. One education administrator, Sarah Young, works at the Utah State Board of Education and, in addition to her normal job, has overseen the distribution of masks and other personal protective equipment and this week is leading the push to get rapid tests to districts and schools.

Neighbors Helping Neighbors was started early in the pandemic when Hoang Ha, a computer programmer, saw a need and created a website to connect people who could use help with people wanting to help, whether it’s fetching groceries or delivering prescriptions. It’s one of many examples where organizations or even friends and neighbors have pitched in to make sure at-risk Utahns can minimize their exposure and stay safe.

• In the face of unprecedented mental health challenges, the Huntsman family (yes, including the board chairman at The Tribune) gave $150 million to the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute to create the new Huntsman Mental Health Institute, a project that will improve lives, even save lives, for generations to come.

• Back in March, a group of Utahns created the Salt Lake COVID-19 Mutual Aid Network to distribute resources to help those affected by the virus and to slow the spread. To date, the network of volunteers has distributed half a million dollars of groceries, supplies and financial assistance to ensure nobody falls through the cracks. The group also provided support and supplies to protesters demanding racial justice during the summer.

• In the early weeks of the pandemic, protective masks for critical health care workers and their patients were in short supply. In April, Intermountain Healthcare, the University of Utah and Latter-day Saint Charities started a program enabling crafty Utahns to sew thousands of handmade face masks to protect those frontline medical providers.

• In mid-September, hurricane-force winds tore through much of Utah, knocking over thousands upon thousands of trees. The Urban Indian Center in Salt Lake City and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arranged a program that let people donate the fallen wood to the Navajo Nation. They delivered some 1,500 tons of wood, giving residents the fuel to heat their homes throughout the winter.

• Earlier this week, my coworker, Andy Larsen, cashed in a small fortune in change, ending up with $165.84, which he tweeted that he planned to give to people who had been impacted by COVID. One follower offered to match it, then another and another. Soon, the simple gesture had gone viral. By Wednesday, Larsen had received more than $50,000 from followers who only wanted to help.

• In June, the coronavirus tore through a Cache County meatpacking plant infecting some 300 workers, most of them Latino or refugees. Workers began to turn to Liz Villegas, who within days organized the delivery of cleaning supplies and meals to families in quarantine. Crescencio Lopez put together a series of drop-off sites and the Spanish-speaking ward house was turned into a makeshift grocery store and, along with the Cache Immigrant and Refugee Connection, served hundreds of households in the area.

I could go on and on. There are so many people stocking food pantries, delivering meals, caring for friends and neighbors and family members — people like “Grandma Pat,” who anonymously delivers loaves of homemade bread to neighbors in Cottonwood Heights.

No, it has not been a traditional year, and this is not a traditional Thanksgiving. But in the face of the challenges, we still have no shortage of reasons to be grateful.

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