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Journalism professor continues to care for students during pandemic

Blog by Akhira Umar | Photos provided by Akhira Umar and Kakie Urch

At seven a.m., my alarm goes off, not for class but for a trip to Walmart. A little over a month ago I’d wake up at this time to start my daily class commute. Now I’m waking up to beat the crowds at the grocery store.

Around eight, I pull up at the nearly secluded parking lot— one of only two grocery stores in my town, and this one’s the bigger one. Normally the lot would be at least half full. But now there are only a handful of cars because this is the new normal. I park close to the front, because I can for once thanks to the lack of cars, next to early-rising elders, handicapped parkers and non-handicapped parkers alike. We collectively, but with distance, amble toward the entrance. Shopping carts are tipped vertically to hold a string of yellow caution tape around one door. A greeter directs what little traffic there is to follow the lengthy, taped-off path, reminding us to stay six feet apart. The “enter” and “exit” doors are finally being enforced as such. Once inside, I collect my cart, making sure to wipe down every side with the provided Clorox wipes. I try to smile at passing elderly customers to reassure them that I’m not a young, panic-buying shopper. I’m actually here this early to avoid them. Despite this thought, as I wheel down aisle after aisle, I have to fight the urge to speed up. I started shopping in the mornings, before my nine a.m. class, in hopes that I could actually find what I needed before they were swiped up. While the shelves aren’t as bare as they are at four in the afternoon, they definitely aren’t as full as they used to be. After a trip around the store and even a stop at Save-A-Lot, the other grocer just two minutes away, I come away with about a week’s worth of fresh produce, some canned goods, potential exposure to the virus, and disappointment. The essentials my family needed— water, toilet paper, and hand soap— were nowhere to be seen. By nine, I’m in my room on Zoom, trying to quell my frustrations. But my professor, Kakie Urch, lends a listening ear. I tell her about my dilemma, more out of annoyance than devastation. My family isn’t in a dire situation, but our supplies are running out and I can never seem to find the things we need in our little town. Without missing a beat, Kakie immediately offers to bring me supplies. I never intended to get a handout; I just wanted to vent. But she doesn’t take no for an answer, and after class, she’s texting me about my shopping list and address. I insist that my family only needs water and toilet paper— not hand soap because of my mother’s migraine sensitivity to fragrance. But Kakie, again, insists that she’ll make something work and that she’ll be at my house around noon. The drive to my house from Lexington is only about half an hour. My mother has always been the type to not accept help. But when I tell her about Kakie coming, she just laughs and says it was sweet. My dad, who’s the same way, says just about the same. When Kakie pulls up to my house, wearing a face mask, she does not pull up with just water, toilet paper and barely scented hand soap. She unloads bags and bags of groceries from her car.

Akhira Umar shared via Instagram a photo of the groceries that Kakie Urch brought to her family.

She had bought us everything from school supplies to food to hygienic products to lightbulbs. She got us good toilet paper and not-so-good toilet paper, just because it was there. She got us three different kinds of hand soap just in case my mom couldn’t stand the smell of one of them. And she got me makeup because she thought it might look good on me. A little overboard, but an extremely sweet gesture nonetheless. And she did all of this without batting an eye or asking for anything in return, making me promise to tell her if I ever needed anything again.

With my mother being on sick leave from mail-carrying because of a broken foot and my dad getting a lot of potential exposure from being a correctional officer and first responder, my household had been feeling the strain, as most households are now.

The new normal is scary. But one normal that hasn’t changed is Kakie’s heart. Even before the virus, Kakie was always willing to spend her time, energy and money on her students. I’d go so far as to consider her a School of Journalism and Media mother. And it’s comforting to know that despite the uncertain times we’re living in, her kindness remains a constant.


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