Even during the best of times, anyone can be thrown a curveball: A sudden loss of a job, unexpected medical emergencies, natural disasters — life is unpredictable. During the coronavirus pandemic those challenges have snowballed. Even people who have never had to ask for help in their lives are suddenly facing dire circumstances as they struggle to pay their rent and put food on the table.
Back in March, as the scope of the crisis was just becoming apparent, marketing executive Ron Lynch decided to jump in to create a network where people could provide direct assistance to anyone who was struggling. Using the expertise that helped him propel brands like GoPro to success, he set up a Facebook group and began connecting people in need with those who could chip in. The idea caught on instantly, andIntellihelp has come through for thousands of households and provided millions of meals.
“We’re here to help you when you hit a bump in the road,” says Gonzalo Paternoster, an entrepreneur who now serves as Intellihelp’s CEO. “We treat everyone as the hero of their own journey, but then got a flat tire unexpectedly. And there’s no shame in that. Our story is not based on victimhood, but sometimes life happens, and if we’re there for each other it makes this journey of life a lot easier.”
One of the biggest reasons for the non-profit organization’s success is its simplicity. “Askers” can post onthe Intellihelp Facebook page with details of their predicament and what they need — anything from food to over-the-counter medications to diapers and other baby supplies — and“Angel Givers” can jump in to either personally deliver provisions or place orders for them via outlets like Amazon, Walmart, and Instacart. (There’s also a separateIntellihelp Pets group for assistance with food and supplies for our animal companions.)
“Because of social media, we have the ability to have peer-to-peer helping right away,” says Paternoster, who thinks of Intellihelp as a digital food pantry. “Instead of sending money that hopefully goes somewhere to help someone, Ron wanted to be able to leverage social media to provide help and support to people that day.”
The focus is on people who are facing temporary setbacks, like the loss of a job or other unexpected emergencies. A household may submit up to four asks, at least seven days apart, during a 90-day period. “A lot of people who are using this have always been the helpers and have never asked for help,” Paternoster points out.
Intellihelp is currently receiving 100 to 250 requests a day, and they are able to fulfill about 30-40 percent of those. Needless to say, they are hoping more people willvolunteer ordonate so they can expand their impact.
One of the most encouraging signs of Intellihelp’s success is the way their community is paying it forward. “We’ve had some people who were Askers become Angel Givers, which is super awesome,” Paternoster says. “They got some help, then they eventually landed a job or started getting unemployment benefits, and now they’re giving back. People have posted that this is restoring their belief in humanity.”
And when the pandemic eventually ends, Intellihelp plans to continue on its mission, helping people face unexpected calamities. “We’ve been involved in helping those affected by the California fires, and the hurricanes, all the natural disasters,” Paternoster notes. “We’re going to continue this beyond COVID, creating a network that is flexible and mobile during a crisis.” In addition, they’re hoping to expand their services, helping people connect to employment and career guidance and to improve their mindset when facing challenges.