The phrase “support small businesses” has gained a whole new sort of meaning when it comes to Delaware’s Wingmom. The business employs local moms while helping others, presenting a win-win during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Wingmom was originally created after a tragic loss in founder Kate Maxwell’s life. In the fall of 2016 her fiancée Christopher Leach, a 14-year veteran of the City of Wilmington Fire Department, was killed while extinguishing a blaze in the Canby Park community.
Ever cognizant of the overwhelming support she received from her community helping her manage a household of small children, Maxwell decided one year later it was her time to give back.
Maxwell launched Wingmom in the fall of 2017. And now with co-owner Bonnie Dudley, the pair have crafted the enterprise to offer a variety of services – from running errands to home organization – to folks who need another pair of hands or just more time in the day.
“Kate and I met because Kate was my Wingmom,” said Dudley as she pulled piles of toys from the trunk of her car. The toys have been donated by families who have outgrown them, and Dudley and Maxwell will collect and sort them and match them with other families to enjoy. That’s just part of the service they offer on the side.
“I was pregnant with my third child, and Kate was able to take my mom, who was undergoing cancer treatments, to her medical appointments. We know things get lost in translation, especially for the elderly. So, having Kate there to take notes and get her there was really helpful,” said Dudley, a mother of three.
The current state of emergency is offering a new set of challenges – and opportunity – for local moms to either pitch in to work or reach out for extra help. Maxwell says since mid-March, her business has transitioned from driving children and providing rides to the airport to lots of grocery and errand runs.
“We were definitely not prepared for the influx of grocery requests, and we are doing our best to adjust and try to accommodate everyone,” she said. Maxwell says grocery requests are up 75% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
They’ve got 17 grocery runs tomorrow, and Wingmom will deploy nine moms to cover those shopping assignments.
Wingmom charges clients $30 for a grocery run, $20 of which is paid to their shoppers. They’re also hiring. Many moms are turning to them who have recently been laid off as “non-essential” employees, and some worked in restaurants.
Just how many people rely on a Wingmom for help? In the last two and a half years, Maxwell estimates her business has served 1,700 clients.
Errand runners are equipped with gloves, masks, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes. And they leave purchased items in a designated area outside of a home. They also provide a pair of gloves with each shopping order.
“We suggest that the client wear the gloves and set up some type of decontamination area outside or in their garage and that they wipe down the groceries or unbox them before bringing them inside,” says Maxwell.
Due to their status as a courier company, Wingmom is able to stay open during the coronavirus outbreak.
Maxwell and Dudley employ about 40 moms in the New Castle County area who can also pick up prescriptions, do laundry, offer home organization and transportation – activities they hope to pick back up when the quarantine is lifted. Wingmom typically charges clients $25 an hour and upwards for home organization and transportation services.
“Our home organization is hands-on. We don’t offer tips or advice. We do the actual work of getting your house in order and clearing out the clutter,” says Maxwell.
Amidst the pandemic, Wingmom has reduced its services and refocused the types of work they can offer. The company is also currently hiring to help others who may be out of work, for instance, restaurant employees.
“Moms have come out of the woodwork donating money to us, so we can help those moms in need. When I say coming out of the woodwork, I’m talking about an excess of $2,000 in about a matter of five hours,” Maxwell says. Maxwell says she is using those donations as families in need reach out. Some of the money is used to cover Wingmom services for those who can’t afford them, and other donations are shared with struggling families.
Maxwell and Dudley also are now connecting local teachers under stay-at-home orders to families looking for virtual tutors and other educational support. They have identified certified teachers who can serve as education coordinators who review assignments for the week, breaks them down into manageable pieces and regularly checks in with the student via Facetime. The coordinators are also available to review individual lessons.
Wingmom’s main goal in this trying time is finding the people who need their services the most.
“We’re trying to identify people who need services, especially those who are immuno-compromised or live with a loved one who is. But we could serve more people because so many moms want the work,” said Maxwell. “So far, we’ve helped several moms with small children and elderly citizens.”
One customer, Anna Steppich, has used Wingmom for her mother in Delaware because she recently moved to New York where the outbreak is quite severe.
“Not being able to be there for my mom is heart-wrenching. Kate has been there whether it’s text, calls or in-person to help get the job done since I can’t be there in person. I can’t thank her enough for all that she has done. If she is doing this for others, the impact on the community will be tremendous,” said Steppich.
Another customer, Christine Summers, has used Wingmom in the past and sought out their help to try and do her part in “flattening the curve.”
“At this time, we are trying to lower our risk as much as we can with the current pandemic. Kate shopped for my family like she was shopping for her own. Plus, I love that it is a locally-owned business. When so many other businesses are having to close, I’m glad I can support this one,” Summers said.
At a time where grocery stores may be a place of worry and the government advises to stay home, Wingmom has the potential to be a saving grace for busy moms and high-risk individuals in the area.
“I find purpose and reason to get up in the morning by helping other moms in our community. And I’ve heard from other workers that we are really empowering them. We want to continue doing that during this trying time because this is the time they need it,” Maxwell said.