May 19, 2020

‘We need to slow down’: A lesson in humility—and generosity—in the face of a pandemic

Amid stay-at-home orders, Northern California Allstate agent Kevin Baker took on a new role in his community—delivering groceries and supplies to his older customers to help keep them safe.

Bonnie Vincent, 72, snapped this photo of her Allstate agent Kevin Baker, center, and his family after they delivered groceries to her home. Vincent and her husband live 50 miles from Baker’s office in Chico, California. Due to precautions over COVID-19, the couple weren’t able to go grocery shopping themselves. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Vincent

The COVID-19 pandemic has called on many of us to expand our roles. Parents become teachers, neighbors become caretakers, friends become lifelines. Chico, California, resident Kevin Baker added a couple new roles to his list: grocery store shopper and delivery driver.

Baker, a local Allstate insurance agent the Sacramento Valley, knew that many of his customers lived in remote areas of the region, which is surrounded by two stunning mountain ranges. With California being under a statewide stay-at-home order, except for essential needs, since March, he mobilized his staff to find out how they could help.

“I have quite a few elderly clients. I had the staff call everyone originally 70 and older and then we opened it up to 60 and older, especially folks who are out in these outlying areas,” Baker told us. “We didn’t get very far to find that folks needed supplies, either because they didn’t have a car or many of them were just fearful of leaving.”

Baker put the call out to let his customers know that he would be available to drive food or supplies to those who needed it. In total, Baker estimates he’s delivered groceries to over 35 customers, all at no charge. (His modesty prevented him from telling us how much he’s spent.)

Some of his customers, like 72-year-old Bonnie Vincent, live several miles from the nearest grocery store, so traditional delivery options just weren’t available. Vincent and her husband, Bobby Joe Gutierrez, retired 11 years ago and moved to Berry Creek, a town of about 500 people in the rural foothills of the Sierra Nevadas.

“From his office, it’s 52 miles up in the mountains,” she said, referring to Baker’s Allstate agency. “When Kevin put the notice out, we thought he wouldn’t come this far to deliver groceries. I emailed him and he said absolutely, and he’s been here twice.”

Even with a full daily schedule of running an agency and helping his fourth grader with his spelling homework, there was no question that Baker would jump in to help out. He understands what it means when the world forces you to stop and reexamine your priorities. While it’s impossible to compare the COVID-19 crisis to anything like it, this northern California community has learned to lean on one another in unprecedented ways before. When the 2018 Camp Fire ravaged the nearby town of Paradise, it destroyed nearly every structure in town, including Baker’s second office, and killed over 85 people. It’s California’s deadliest wildfire on record.

“We need to slow down sometimes and really have conversations with people. They have needs and they have worries and fears and sometimes we can't really hear what they're saying unless we slow down.” — Kevin Baker

Baker said the fire taught him to slow down and listen. “We’re really good, especially as Americans, at putting on that mask where we’re all saying, How you doing? I’m fine. How are you? The reality is a lot of folks aren’t fine and they’re not good,” he said. “We need to slow down sometimes and really have conversations with people. They have needs and they have worries and fears and sometimes we can’t really hear what they’re saying unless we slow down.”

Baker is also using this time to show his kids what listening to your community looks like in practice. It’s something he learned from his dad, who was also an Allstate agent. (In fact, the agency has been in the family since 1983. He bought it from his father, Ken Baker, when he retired in 2017.) When his two boys, 12-year-old William and 10-year-old Ben, aren’t logged into school sessions, Baker takes them on grocery runs.

“I wanted my kids to be a part of that so they could see and feel what it’s like to help other people,” he said. “That certainly was taught to me by my dad.”

He said now his kids ask him, when’s the next delivery? “They really look forward to it. It brings a smile to their face and something that they find joy in.”

For Bonnie Vincent, also a lifelong volunteer, she’s heartened to see the younger generations stepping into this role in their communities. “For someone to go 100 miles out of their way to deliver groceries it’s quite a feat,” she said. “We need more people like Kevin who are willing to go the extra mile.”

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