An epidemic of kindness: free toilet paper, car washes and more

Neal Rubin Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Troy — Among the things you learn during a national medical crisis: Hand sanitizer is more valuable than toilet paper, no matter where the largest gaps are on the shelves at Kroger.

And: Some people will complain about anything.

And: That doesn't matter, because good and kind people will do good and kind things anyway.

In a drive-up giveaway at Emergency Restoration on 14 Mile Road Thursday afternoon, as the COVID-19 pandemic rumbled on, owners John and Al David's team handed out toilet tissue — two rolls per person, wrapped and bagged, no charge whatsoever for the product or the smiles.

OK, the drivers couldn't see the smiles. The employees were wearing hooded white Tyvek hazmat suits and industrial-strength masks.

"But it's something people can use, and they truly appreciate it," said Al David. "It's heartwarming. That's why we do it."

That's why masked workers at Magical Touch Car Wash on Greenfield Road in Detroit are giving free exterior washes and sanitizing interiors for first responders, hospital employees and anyone working during the pandemic, said co-owner Alex Issa.

It's why Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and his wife, Kelly, essentially slapped a stack of cash on the counter Thursday at Wahlburgers in Royal Oak, Slows To Go in Detroit, Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor and Roadside B&G in Bloomfield Hills Thursday and invited workers at nearby hospitals to dine for free.

Co-owner Alex Issa, 29, right, sanitizes the interior of a doctor's car with Ahmad Ahmad, 21, at Magical Touch Car Wash in Detroit. Magical Touch is offering a free car wash and interior sanitizing to all first responders, health care workers, grocery workers, basically any critical infrastructure workers that are still on the job during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It's why Blake's Farm & Cider Mill in Armada is giving free sack lunches to anyone 18 and under from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day, ideally lending a hand and a few calories to kids who are missing out on free or reduced-price lunches at school.

And it's why Two James Spirits in Corktown has started concocting hand sanitizer, giving away four-ounce bottles Thursday and packaging larger sizes for purchase: eight ounces for $4 or a gallon for $64, with part of the proceeds funneled to temporarily laid off employees.

Hand sanitizer, dispensed from gallon jugs, was a hot item last week at Emergency Restoration, where the usual focus is rebuilding, repairing or refreshing damaged or contaminated homes.

Drivers started pulling up at noon bearing containers as large as 15 ounces. Employees were still pumping at 6 p.m.

Sean McCarthy (left), bartender, manager, gives an eight-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer to Ethan Johnson as the Two James distillery in Detroit has converted their liquor production to making alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

With the toilet paper, a 20-minute opening rush was followed by long gaps in traffic. No worries, John David said: leftovers would go to the weekly "Bridge the Gap" giveaway of food and necessities, 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Friday at Morse Elementary in Troy.

Grumpy commenters on Facebook had complained that the company was hoarding toilet paper. Actually, it bought 30 cases of 96 rolls apiece, 2,880 rolls total, from a hotel supply outfit in Chicago and sent two guys in a truck to pick them up.

Some people rolled in Thursday in cars worth not much more than the two-ply tissue. At least one drove a Lexus SUV. A man in a black Audi TT convertible didn't even roll down his window; he just popped the diminutive trunk.

There's no enjoyment, Al said, in sucking sewage from a flooded basement. His employees do their jobs for the same reason they were laughing and dancing between arrivals: "They love to help people."

At the car wash, "We're actually losing money by staying open," Issa said.

Joe 'Chooch' Sciortino, left, brings a tray of food to club member Bob 'Uber' Hagberg before they deliver to Metro Detroit area emergency rooms, Thursday, March 26, 2020.

He keeps going out of gratitude, he said. At first, he offered free sanitizing for group accounts that include the Detroit and University of Michigan-Dearborn police departments, then "just thought to tack on nurses, hospital, grocery store and anyone that's out working and trying to make the world a better place."

Ali Jishi, a medical resident at McLaren Oakland Hospital in Pontiac, said he was already a Magical Touch customer before his washes became free.

"What they're doing," he said, "is really giving others a sense of comfort."

It's a bit like Purell, if hand sanitizer was sprayed bumper-to-bumper.

Twitter: @nealrubin_dn