I’ve written a few pieces on COVID-19, but this is my favorite story by far. It includes beach volleyball fans, grocery-deliveries, inflatable hammers, philanthropy, plastic Hawaiian leis, bananas, and a plethora of selfless and compassionate people. But, before we get into that, some background on PoundTown.
PoundTown came about by accident. James Hays — a small business owner and volleyphile (can we make that a word?)— joined the San Diego Volleyball Crew (SDVC) a few years ago. The Crew is a 500-person group that plays every Sunday on six progressive courts. Every skill level is welcome; a player graduates from the lesser courts to the better courts as they improve. That’s one of the joys of SDVC — everyone is competitive yet supportive of their fellow players.
SDVC is among many pockets of beach volleyball fans around the country. Most people just want to get outside and have fun, maybe get a tan and have a brewski while learning a new game. Some people are serious about the game and move to California to make it on the AVP.
And then you have your die-hard fans. The ones that dress up, name their cohort, and travel to tournaments. You’ve got the Wannabes from Baton Rouge, not to be confused with the Sand Wannabes from Austin. And, of course, we now have PoundTown, a horde of SDVC members that made their raucous debut at the Manhattan Beach Open last summer.
The inflatable hammers and name were inspired by Kevin Barnett’s Hammer Award, a handmade wooden hammer that represented an award for the heaviest hitter in each tourney. James and some other SDVC members planned to attend MBO 2019. They drove to James’ Huntington Beach home the night before it began. Instead of just attending, they wanted to do something more special and fun. No one remembers how inflatable hammers were suggested, but they found them on Amazon Prime and had them overnighted.
Then, during a Target run, they bought all the leis they could find. Of course, leis weren’t on their original Target list, but no one leaves Target without a few rogue items. Alas, PoundTown was formed – an inclusive and boisterous cheering section comprised of San Diegan goofballs and an assortment of strangers willing to join in. They hoot and holler for the thunderous hits from players like Chase Budinger, Troy Field, and Alix Klineman. They root for everyone and no one, just looking for a good match and a good time.
PoundTown had so much fun at MBO that they decided to also travel to the Waikiki AVP. Here, the leis made more sense, the athletes appreciated the familiar faces, and PoundTown cemented itself as an AVP superfan subset. After that tourney, 19 PoundTowners planned to go to the FIVB in Cancun while the Huntington Beach AVP would’ve seen a 40-person sea of plastic hammers and tomfoolery. But of course… Coronavirus (read in Cardi B’s voice)!!
The SDVC members that planned to fly to Cancun were set to leave on March 18. On March 14, the tournament was canceled and everyone was encouraged to stay home. Instead of packing for a trip to Mexico, James Hays went to Trader Joe’s to stock up for his quarantine. The line was around the block. As James was leaving, he spotted an elderly gentleman staring helplessly at the mass of people. He worriedly asked James what the line was all about, admitting that he was uncomfortable being in large crowds. James’ heart broke for this guy; he was genuinely scared to enter a grocery store for a bunch of bananas.
James talked to management and got the man his bananas safely; that scene triggered something in James. Wanting to help more people in an organized and cohesive way, he reached out to the PoundTowners and other SDVC members. Within 24-hours, they had established Stay Home SD — a volunteer-based, completely free grocery delivery service to at-risk San Diegans.
Since its genesis in mid-March, Stay Home SD has grown to three branch locations with 400 volunteers and counting. They’ve raised over $100K and delivered more than 10,000 bags of groceries. They’ve collaborated with healthcare professionals to establish proper protocols, making sure both their volunteers and recipients are safe.
They’re clean and careful in handling groceries and have no physical interaction with the seniors. Masked and gloved shoppers buy and disinfect groceries. Drivers then pick up the groceries, call when they’re ten minutes away, drop the bags, ring the doorbell, and take ten steps back. They ensure everyone receives their groceries with a wave and masked smile, and then they’re on their way to the next.
Stay Home SD doesn’t just do groceries. They provide other living essentials like Depends and toilet paper. Volunteers have gone above and beyond, delivering balloons and ice cream for birthdays and flowers for anniversaries. One driver recovered a lost dog. Another hunted down a difficult and expensive prescription and then paid for it out of his own pocket. These volunteers are heroes, a squad of volleyball fans who have time on their hands, youth and energy, and willing hearts. “Our little group of Beach Volleyball friends have taken our sense of teamwork and camaraderie and applied it to this effort to keep the vulnerable safe at home,” James says. And their little group boasts some big talent.
Austin Vawter and Phil Pendleton set up the website www.stayhomesd.com, and manage all the volunteers. Emily Roncase runs logistics and provided the living room where it all started. Jeffrey Schwarz, their Supply Chain Manager, set up connections with powerhouse companies like Costco, Sysco, Restaurant Depot, reducing costs by more than half. Joshua Daguman runs Fulfillment, making sure deliveries are accurate and punctual. “He also answered our first 200 calls with his cell phone,” James says, “sometimes in the middle of the night, from seniors that were desperate for food and worried to leave the house.” Sophia Koe, a newcomer to SDVC, runs one of their remote branches. Sydney Prochnow delivered the first bag of groceries and now also manages corporate image and promotions.
The people of San Diego have lauded Stay Home SD with rave reviews. Testimonials describe life-changing work and interactions with volunteers. Recipients have also shown their love through donations; though the service is free, about half who participate and have a few dollars to spare have given. The Mayor, a California State Senator, and the San Diego County of Health Services have all endorsed Stay Home SD. They’ve partnered with existing local philanthropies like the YWCA – a phenomenal empowerment program and shelter for women and children in abusive homes. Through Stay Home SD, everyone in the program will receive a 20 lb. food box weekly.
What James started has grown into something impressive, unpredictable, and heartwarming. “There are HUNDREDS more who have worked just as hard as these people, but I should stop somewhere,” James says. “Every person in this group has given everything they can. I can’t adequately describe how much they have given and continue to give.” James had the confidence that he could start something like this because he trusted his volleyball family to back him. “We’ve already worked out all our issues on the volleyball court. We’ve had our personality issues. We’ve had our wins and losses. We’ve all kicked each other’s butts, and all had our butts kicked. We’ve already worked that all out, and we’re a community already. But even we are shocked at how much we could do out of that community. PoundTown was a silly way for us to learn that we could really do some awesome things. The momentum was there, and we realized volleyball wasn’t the only place we could apply this energy and camaraderie and community. No matter what happens, wherever we all go in life, we’ll always have this experience.”
While James and the PoundTowners are taking care of San Diego, they know other cities are in need, as well. Stay Home SD is willing to advise and help other communities set up a website, proper protocols, and even provide seed money. They’ve already helped volleyball fan-led groups in Hawaii and Germany. James is in this solely for altruism – he doesn’t want recognition or need more funding. He’s just looking to spread the good word, to inspire others to do something similar, and to celebrate his community. We need more James Hays and PoundTowners in the world.
Call (619) 800-3252 if you or a loved one is part of the at-risk community in San Diego.