On a typical day at the HackCville office on Elliewood Avenue, in the heart of The Corner business district, University of Virginia students are hustling and bustling, brainstorming ideas and developing them into something real, something special, something that – with any luck – can help make the world a better place.
These days, only HackCville executive director Daniel Willson and launch director Kaleigh Watson are ever in the space.
However, that doesn’t mean the great ideas have come to a halt. Quite the contrary.
Since the COVID-19 global pandemic changed everyone’s lives, a group of about 10 UVA students who are a part of HackCville have banded together – remotely – to help the neighbors they had to leave behind.
Under the guidance of Willson and Watson, the students last month created and launched a website called savethecorner.com that, through gift cards and donations, has raised more than $2,600 for people who work in the Charlottesville restaurant industry and purchased more than 150 meals from restaurants located on the Corner.
“We were all excited to put extra time and energy into something that might help out a neighbor,” Watson said.
Willson added, “We know how hard this has hit various groups and organizations, and just wanted to do our part.”
Two restaurant owners, UVA alumni Joseph Linzon and Julie Nolet – who co-founded Roots Natural Kitchen and Corner Juice – have also been doing theirs. With the help of HackCville, Linzon and Nolet recently provided 50 meals to Aramark employees laid off from their positions at University food service facilities.
“HackCville has been incredible,” Linzon said. “I’m so happy that they’ve been working with us and the community to make everyone stronger through all this.
“The initiative has been awesome.”
Since the pandemic hit, Linzon and Nolet have also been delivering free immune-boosting juices to UVA Health employees.
“What we sell is really important in terms of boosting your immune system, and what demographic needs it more right now than the frontline hospital workers?” Linzon said. “And it’s not just doctors and nurses, but it’s the people who are in the hospital keeping it clean at night when everyone’s gone. It goes much further than just doctors and nurses.”
So far, through their Corner Juice website, Linzon and Nolet have received more than $4,000 in donations, which equates to about 800 bottles of juice.
Linzon delivers the bottles to the medical center himself, making drop-offs to regular customers as well, including former UVA basketball player Ty Jerome, who has been in Charlottesville while the NBA has been on hiatus.
“He’s ordered from us every single day since this all happened,” Linzon said. “We’re so grateful to him. Every time he orders, he adds juices to his order [for UVA Health workers]. He’s responsible himself for at least two cases of juice that we’ve distributed to UVA Health.
“But there are so many people who have been involved. It really has been a community effort.” Jonathan Eman, a second-year student from Atlanta who is set to start at UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce in the fall, helped create a delivery subscription order form for Juice Laundry, a Corner smoothie shop not related to Corner Juice.
Right after spring break, when Eman found out courses would be moving online, he reached out to McIntire School of Commerce professor Jeff Boichuk, who leads the school’s Research for Sustainable Commerce team, to see if he needed help with anything. Boichuk mentioned that Juice Laundry was hoping to get a juice delivery subscription service up-and-running as quickly as possible.
Less than 48 hours after this initial conversation, Eman was able to get the subscription platform fully launched.
Eman, who had worked with the Juice Laundry on other projects previously, said it feels great to do his part.
“It’s always amazed me how dedicated their owners are to having a positive impact on the Charlottesville community, whether it be in their mission to promote clean eating and sustainability or offering donations during times of need,” he said. “I know how much the Juice Laundry means to the Charlottesville community as well, so I wanted to make sure I could do whatever I could to help them get through this really difficult time.”
Other students and Corner businesses have also been contributing in various ways.
“Everyone who can help, is, for the most part,” Linzon said. “We’re really all in this together. If any one of us drops off, it takes everyone down. We’re all a team striving toward a common goal.
“It’s a wonderful and beautiful thing to see the community come together during such an uncertain time.”
An Ontario native, Linzon said his time as a student at UVA – he graduated from McIntire in 2015 – ingrained in him the importance of giving back.
“This community has given so much to me over the years, whether it just be an awesome place to learn, a place where I met the friends I’ll have for the rest of my life … It was just kind of a no-brainer,” he said.
At HackCville, students have been communicating daily via Slack and Zoom platforms to spread the word about their “Save The Corner” project.
“Corner businesses are such a staple of the UVA community and work year-round to improve our experience in Charlottesville,” said Sydney Nyman, a rising third-year student from New York City, “so it’s the least we can do to make sure they’re supported while most of us are away.
“They’re a part of the reason UVA is so special and it’s been fantastic to be able to help them out during these crazy times.”
Speaking from the mostly empty HackCville office, Willson said he feels “incredibly proud” of what the students have helped accomplish.
“It’s been such a difficult and challenging time for so many people,” he said, “and it’s been awesome to see students from afar and organizations all over town doing what they can to support one another.”