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Bringing Out the Best in Us During the Pandemic

Posted on by Dr. Francis Collins

Pablo Vidal-Ribas Belil at the grocery store
Caption: Pablo Vidal-Ribas visiting a supermarket to pick up groceries for four neighbors. Credit: Pablo Vidal-Ribas

Sheltering at home for more than two months has made many of us acutely aware of just how much we miss getting out and interacting with other human beings. For some, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has also triggered a more selfless need: to be a good neighbor to the most vulnerable among us and help them stay well, both mentally and physically, during this trying time.

The term “good neighbor” definitely applies to Pablo Vidal-Ribas Belil, a postdoctoral fellow at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Though Vidal-Ribas has his hands full caring for his 4-year-old son in their condo, which is located near NIH’s main campus in Bethesda, MD, he wasn’t too busy to notice that some of his neighbors were in need of help.

Vidal-Ribas extended a helping hand to pick up groceries and prescriptions for the older woman downstairs, as well as several more of his elderly neighbors. He and other concerned neighbors also began enlisting more volunteers to join a neighborhood coronavirus task force. There are now up to 30 volunteers and sometimes hold virtual meetings.

To try to reach everyone in the more than 950-unit Parkside Condominium community, the group coordinated its activities with the help of the management office. They also issued flyers and email messages via the neighborhood list serv, offering to assist people at greatest risk for COVID-19, including seniors and those with compromised immune systems or other serious conditions, by shopping for essential items and dropping the items off at their doors.

The personal interest and care of Vidal-Ribas also comes with medical expertise: he’s a clinical psychologist by training. Vidal-Ribas, who is originally from Barcelona, Spain, came to the United States four years ago to work with an NIH lab that specializes in the study of depression and related conditions in young people. Last year, Vidal-Ribas moved to NICHD as a Social and Behavioral Sciences Branch Fellow, where he now works with Stephen Gilman. There, he explores prenatal and early developmental factors that contribute to attempts at suicide later in life.

His expertise as a psychologist has come in handy. Vidal-Ribas has found that many of the individuals requesting help with grocery items or prescriptions also want to talk. So, the team’s efforts go a long way toward providing not only basic necessities, but also much-needed social and emotional support.

In recognition of this need, the group has expanded to offer virtual chats and other community activities, such as physically distanced games, conversations, or story times. One talented young volunteer has even offered to give music concerts remotely by request. Folks know they can call on Vidal-Ribas and some of the most active task force volunteers at any time.

Vidal-Ribas reports that they’ve taken great care to follow the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 to ensure that those volunteering their time do so safely. He and other volunteers typically buy for multiple neighbors at once while they do their own personal shopping to reduce the number of outings. They then leave the bags with groceries or prescriptions at their neighbors’ doors with no direct contact. As far as he knows, none of his vulnerable neighbors have come down with COVID-19.

Vidal-Ribas says he’s prepared to continue his volunteer outreach for as long as it takes. And, even when the threat of COVID-19 subsides, he’ll keep on lending a hand to his neighbors. It’s one of the ways he stays connected to his community and grounded within himself during this difficult time. By sharing his story, he hopes it will inspire others to do what they can to help others in need to stay safe and well.


Coronavirus (COVID-19) (NIH)

Social and Behavioral Sciences Branch Fellows (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development/NIH)

Stephen Gilman ((National Institute of Child Health and Human Development/NIH)


  • Sugath Rajapakse says:

    What you are saying now, the change in the people under the pandemic is the usual living way in Sri Lanka. Be one even 100 years old we do not put them in old age care homes because old parents live with children. As per data in UK more than 10,000 have died in care homes. But here in Sri Lanka only 9 so far have died, many of whom had travelled abroad and picked up the virus while others were sick with various ailments prior to coronavirus infection. Our medical people and our armed forces are taking great care of our people.
    In Sri Lanka there are no indications of mental depression or mental stress as we know that nothing is same forever. We do not yearn to run to beach or go shopping and party because people at homes are happy.

    • Judy L M says:

      Very heart warming. What a lovely young man. The comment from Sri Lanka hit home.
      I am 77 yrs old. As a young woman, I worked as an aide in three nursing homes in two different states. All were short staffed. The pay was minimal. Frankly some staff were not fit to be caring for another human being. I found the experience very depressing.
      When I left one home, a caring RN said to me “So many good aides leave”.

      • Sugath Rajapakse says:

        Dear Judy, Good people are hard to find today. I am also 72 years old, and still working. I have been working since I graduated in September 1969, and last 40 years in airlines. From my childhood in early 1950 to now I see huge changes and all are for worse and not better. We may have smart phones, VR or AI and gone to Moon etc. But today there is hardly any compassion, loving-kindness, equanimity, Mindfulness, Altruistic Joy etc. in our species Homo Sapiens.

  • Anne says:

    Really heart warming! There’s hope for humanity after all.

  • John Addis says:

    I applaud Vidal-Ribas! As to Sri Lanka and Sugath’s comments, please tell us more.

    • Sugath Rajapakse says:

      I am now 72 years old and still working since age of 21 years when I graduated from University of Ceylon (then it was Ceylon but now Sri Lanka). In my childhood I saw how much empathy people had for each other. As I can vividly recollect, when relatives visit homes they take sweets that are home made (not chocolates or cakes as is now from a shop). After they leave our grandma will portion out many parcels of these sweets to our neighbours and we take those to each of our neighbours homes. It is only after that is done, we get sweets from grandma for us to eat. She always said, “what is eaten is pungent and what is given is perfumed”. It means when you hold for yourself, it is with greed. But when you give it is with compassion and benevolence.
      Today from Top to Bottom almost all think, “what is eaten is perfumed and what is given is pungent”. That is why there is so much of high self-conceit in people.

  • Mary Ellen says:

    Thank you, Pablo! You are a inspiration to us all.

  • Sharon S. says:

    A gracious thank you for taking your action and leading others. You are saving people that are lonely, hungry and w/o hope. You bring a smile, food and hope.
    Thank you.

    • Sugath Rajapakse says:

      We have a bounded duty to our fellow humans all over the world. Also people should know that in this repeated cycles of births & deaths, there is not a single person in this planet who has not been a son, daughter, mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, grand parents, grandchildren, cousins etc. of each other and often it can be thousands of times.
      So we have to care for each other and not hurt as one that is hurt or killed by another would have been mother or father etc. in previous lives.

  • T Hamzat says:

    If I am to share how this covid-19 pandemic affects me, it’s just 30% because I work and make money online. But it’s affecting many people out there. So this is so helpful.

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