At around the same time that Krystal Muci first saw the RVs 4 MDs group in her Facebook feed, Barbara Ludwig, a nursing professor and registered nurse specialized in critical-care nursing, had decided to volunteer for Kansas City, Missouri-based Saint Luke's Health System, floating full-time between facilities with a high number of COVID-19 patients.
"I had no hesitation regarding my decision," Ludwig says. "The only concern I had was regarding the safety of my family … I was concerned about the safety and well-being of my children, husband, and elder mother who lives with us."
After looking into and dismissing Airbnbs, VRBO rentals, and hotels due to safety considerations and the financial strain of long-term stays at such facilities, Ludwig, too, chanced upon the RVs 4 MDs Facebook group, where Muci had made a posting that same day. "My camper was just sitting in storage, not being used," the Wichita, Kansas-based RV owner says. "I felt like it was a waste just sitting there when it could be used to help someone that is out sacrificing on the frontlines to care for the sick COVID-19 patients."
By the Saturday following Easter Sunday, the critical-care nurse was ensconced in Muci's 2017 Heartland Sundance 5th wheel camper, where she could watch her children play outside while keeping them safe from potential infection. Inside, Muci had left her snacks, drinks, fuzzy socks, blankets, and one more incredibly thoughtful touch: a digital scroll of family pictures that she had "pirated from (Ludwig's) Facebook page."
RVs 4 MDs Gets Its Start
A few weeks before all this took place, a similar problem was playing out near Dallas. Emily Phillips, wife of emergency room doctor Jason Phillips, reached out to her Facebook friends, hoping to land a temporary housing solution for her husband, who was afraid he might come home and infect his wife and kids with the virus. A mutual friend connected Phillips with Holly Haggard, who offered her RV for the family to use. The two women bonded almost immediately, and within two days, they'd formed RVs 4 MDs to Fight the Corona Virus, a Facebook community that gathered more than 31,000 members in less than two months. It has since made connections between RV owners and frontline healthcare workers and first responders in almost every state.
At first, both women had their doubts such an arrangement could work. Wichita is about three hours from Ludwig's Kansas City suburban home, so she didn't think she'd hear back from Muci. Once she did, however, Muci learned that Ludwig didn't have the right kind of electrical outlet to support having the RV in her driveway. And that's when another selfless individual stepped in with further help: Wichita electrician Tom Hunsecker donated his time and materials to travel to Ludwig's home and install the outlet.
Along the way, the group has brought more than 100 volunteers on board to help make matches, including Nashville-based Casee DeMets, who helps coordinate the group's public relations efforts. Many volunteers, she notes, have full-time jobs and families on top of their contributions, but she adds they're motivated to keep putting in the time for a couple of reasons.
"For myself as well as the leadership team, the highlight is just making sure that frontline healthcare workers and first responders are safe while they're also still able to be with their families." But another huge plus, she notes, is "just seeing everybody come together — these are complete strangers donating their home-away-from-home to someone they don't know. It's made me as well as everybody else know there are some good people in this world during bad times."
A Memorable Match
Muci and Ludwig's match is just one of more than 1,400 such connections that have been made all over the country. Though the two have never met in person — Ludwig was working when Muci and her husband, John, delivered the RV — both note that they now video chat or exchange texts and emails daily. "She has become part of my support system," Ludwig says. "As a fellow mother, she sympathizes with the thought of being away from your family and children."
For her part, Muci adds: "I have come to know Barbara as a loving mother. A strong woman. And such a giving person. I am thankful fate has brought us together. These uncertain times brought an unexpected friendship! We are already planning a girls' trip when this pandemic is over."
The relationship between the two is what DeMets says the group has since termed a "memorable match." It's connections like these — ones that are especially full of heart and generosity and might require "grabbing a tissue," DeMets says — that feel so significant that RVs 4 MDs is now highlighting them during its Facebook Live sessions.
Muci, unsurprisingly, has not set a time limit on how long Ludwig will have the camper. "She may keep it until she feels safe to occupy her home again." The nurse notes that she is "forever grateful" for that level of generosity. "They provided a safe means for me to care for people and do what I love. Working in the hospital during this time has been scary, emotionally draining, and physically demanding. There have been days where I cried on my way home from work — but I have not had to worry about getting my family sick."
Ludwig's words echo those of Muci who, when asked what she'd say to anyone hesitant to donate their RV to a healthcare worker, noted that such a resource can provide healthcare workers with safety, peace of mind, and more — "a warm place where they can shower and sleep comfortably, close enough that they can watch their children outside the window."
It's also a way, she added, for her and others to personally "feel like I joined the fight. We are all in this together, and now we are all fighting this pandemic as a team. And when Americans put aside their fears and differences and band together, we are unstoppable. We will beat this — and if it comes back, we can do it all over again until we finally win."