The year 2020 will go down in history as one of the most difficult in the history of the United States. In a time of tremendous pressure and massive changes to “normal life,” some people are stepping up to help those around them.
Jonathan Swartz, a regulatory specialist in the Charleston District’s Columbia Field Office, decided to use a skillset of his to help those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Swartz, a hobbyist woodworker, paired with his friend, Eric Salem, to put out an offer to their community to build desks for students who would be doing virtual school this year. When they put out the offer on Facebook, they expected to get 10-15 responses. Within 24 hours, they had 160 requests.
“I didn’t think it would be a big enough deal that I would even need to talk to my wife about it,” said Swartz. “Now, it is consuming my life, in a good way.”
With more than 200 requests to date, Swartz and Salem, knew that they wouldn’t be able to fulfill the orders without help from others. But when their story went viral in the local news, major brands and local places stepped in to help them.
The local Home Depot is donating $5,000 worth of wood for the desks, GRK has donated all the screws, individuals are donating to their Go Fund Me page, and Swartz’ church is providing a space for storage and working. This is extremely beneficial since Swartz and Salem are providing the desks at no charge to those who request them.
“Our goal is to donate them to people who can’t afford them,” said Swartz. “You can buy a desk for under $100, but not everyone can do that. We aren’t asking for justification from people, just trust they need it.”
Swartz and Salem are building about 15-20 desks a week, working around their work schedules. Now down to a science, each desk takes about 30 minutes to construct. However, more volunteers have stepped up to help with the final steps.
Cadets from the University of South Carolina Air Force ROTC program have volunteered to sand down and deliver all the desks, which saves tremendous amounts of time.
Swartz and Salem have received requests from other areas of the state for plans for his desk so that they can do something similar in their area. Their goal was to make the plans as simple as possible so that the average person could build a desk for themselves with just a saw and a drill.
“It’s a crappy time with a lot of crazy stuff going on, so we’re just trying to find a way to use our gifts to support our community,” said Swartz.
Swartz and Salem expect that the length of the pandemic and availability of donated materials will dictate how long they keep doing this and how many desks they’ll make, but for now, the community is grateful.