"I don't do well with free time," admits Eric Trope.
So when Miami City Ballet pulled the plug on its season this spring, the corps member immediately started looking for something else to get involved in. Two friends, Kristin Guerin and Jessica Gutierrez, had just started a program they'd seen in other cities where those who were elderly, immunocompromised or without access to a car could be paired with neighbors who volunteered to pick up groceries and prescriptions for them. They called it Buddy System.
Trope, who comes from a family of activists, started helping out with the organization however he could. But when Buddy System began getting some local press, requests ballooned, and he jumped on board to help run a much more complicated operation.
"The original plan was for buddies to pay back the volunteers for whatever they were picking up," he explains. "But many people started calling us saying that they were homebound, but had also been laid off and were dealing with financial hardship." Many couldn't yet get unemployment or food stamps because the government agencies were too backed up to handle the volume of requests.
To help those people get by in the meantime, some volunteers began going to food drives for pickups. But those resources were also so overwhelmed that it sometimes meant waiting in a line of cars for four hours for one box of groceries.
So Buddy System started searching for alternatives, and found a church that offered to host a food drive just for them. Every Friday for two months, about 70 to 80 volunteers picked up food that had been donated by Sysco for around 300 people in the community.
Trope got his Miami City Ballet family involved, with around 20 dancers, staff and stage managers volunteering. Even some who were quarantining outside of Florida helped out by making calls.
"It's been wild because I never thought I would be in this position," says Trope. "But I'm thankful to have the work and to be helpful."
Last month, Buddy System became an official nonprofit. Since then, they've been awarded a community resilience grant, and have begun offering those in need referrals to larger programs, like Feeding South Florida. "Now that things are a little more manageable, and there's less immediate need, we're focusing on putting people in touch with more sustainable, long-term resources," says Trope. For now, Buddy System has paused its weekly food drives—though Trope is eyeing Florida's spike in coronavirus cases, and says they're ready to start up again if necessary.
Beyond food assistance, they've also begun making connections to local resources for immigration, domestic abuse and mental health issues.
Trope plans to stay involved in whatever way he can, even once he's back in rehearsals. "In the past few years, I've felt helpless—as much as you can be aware of disparities and injustices, it's one thing to be aware and another to do something," he says. "To know I'm helping on this grassroots level, even in this small-scale way, the ability to feed someone feels really meaningful."