Ashley and her roommate had been working from home for four days before they realized their MetroCards were going to waste. The cards were charged up and ready for the daily subway commute, but had become useless once the coronavirus pandemic caused non-essential workplaces to close for in-person business. However, it didn’t take long for the roommates to realize that the cards could still be put to good use.
Ashley’s roommate had the idea of going on Reddit and offering the cards to essential workers, who were still doing their regular commute. Their cards were quickly snatched up, but while browsing the site Ashley noticed a problem. “The thread was overwhelmed by other people also looking to donate,” she says. “I joined a couple of neighborhood mutual aid groups on Facebook and saw a similar phenomenon, so I thought I'd create a place that would make sure MetroCards could make it into the hands of those who are in need.”
That place is Corona Metro, a website dedicated to linking essential workers with donated MetroCards. “I [was] staring at a computer screen for eight hours a day anyway for my job,” Ashley says, “so I figured I'd put my idle time to good use!”
How Donating MetroCards with Corona Metro works
The Corona Metro homepage is as simple as the endeavor itself, consisting of a Google Form that collects contact information from MetroCard donors and from those in need of a card. “I have a huge spreadsheet—over 1000 responses at this point—tracking everything,” Ashley says. “Once I find a possible match, I'll reach out to both the giver and the receiver [and] put them in touch.”
After Ashley makes the connection, the donors and recipients take it from there. Some plan a meeting spot, others send their MetroCards by mail. If there is no immediate match on her spreadsheet, Ashley digs into a variety of mutual aid networks to ask around. “I don't want anyone in need to go without,” she says.
Donating MetroCards: Small acts, big effects
The Corona Metro program began in mid-March, but it has already made a huge impact on the lives of New Yorkers—particularly those working essential jobs. “People have been very nice!” Ashley says. “I've been able to get cards to a variety of essential workers including nurses, CNAs, home health aids, grocery store workers, social workers, and maintenance techs.”
One woman in Bay Ridge used Corona Metro to donate nine cards to a group of 311 call center employees. Another grateful MetroCard recipient had just secured an essential job but couldn’t afford commuting costs, and a donor’s 30-Day Unlimited Ride MetroCard made all the difference. “Many have been very thankful,” Ashley says. “They have more money to spend on food now that they don't have to worry about a MetroCard.”
The future of Corona Metro
Corona Metro is still a small operation, but Ashley is looking to change that. “I'm actively seeking volunteers,” she says. “I think that there are a couple of tasks that could be automated—such as asking people to be more specific when they input their neighborhood—that would enable me to focus on making the connections.”
While the coronavirus continues to affect New York City in greater numbers, New Yorkers will eventually be going back to their pre-coronavirus routines, and that includes subway commutes. When that happens, Ashley hopes that Corona Metro will have had at least a few lasting effects. “I hope that overall, some of the connections made with this project extend beyond the initial exchange,” she says, “or at least get people out of their bubbles, making them more aware of their communities.”
In the meantime, however, donors have been reaching out to Ashley about refilling their MetroCards and handing them off again to help see essential workers through the pandemic. “The supply is great right now,” she says. “I'm just focusing on connecting as many people as possible, so that none of this goodwill goes to waste.”
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