SOUTHERN OCEAN COUNTY, NJ – It’s been many years since Mister Rogers offered some sound advice. In speaking to his television audience of little children, he brought them back to his boyhood and coping skills his mother gave him. It was all about the helpers. There’s no doubt that 26-year-old Will Cecere, counts as one of the helpers.
“When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me,” stands as the direct quote from Fred Rogers. "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Although Cecere never heard the quote, he lives it.
Those in the Barnegat or Waretown area may notice that Cecere looks familiar. For the last couple of years, he’s bartended at the Lighthouse Tavern in Route 9. It’s been a good gig while Cecere works on the last three credits on his master’s degree in homeland security.
When the coronavirus crisis first hit, the Lighthouse tried to stay open. Ultimately, it’s closing put Cecere on the long list of unemployed people in the service industry. On a positive note, it freed up Cecere to do what he likes to do best.
“I like to help people,” said Cecere. “If I can make just one person’s life better, I feel like I’ve accomplished something.”
Over the years, Cecere has helped his family by picking up groceries. As he sifted through posts on social media, he sensed panic. First, there were the endless complaints that no one could find toilet paper. Meanwhile, a great many people expressed their frustration that there were no open slots for food delivery. That’s when Cecere realized he could help.
Cecere decided that he would take on food shopping tasks for others. On the one hand, he figured he would be taking care of someone unable to go out, whether they were sick or quarantined. On the other, there would fewer people venturing into the stores.
Initially, Cecere made a Facebook post offering what he calls “non-contact” shopping. He invited people to message him through Facebook or an email he set up. So far, six strangers have taken Cecere up on his offer to shop for them.
“When people contact me, I just ask for a list and a place where they want me to leave their groceries,” said Cecere. “I also need a phone number so that I can call them from the store in case I have to grab different brands.”
Notably, Cecere doesn’t charge for the service at all. He even uses his own credit card to make the purchases and sends over a copy of the receipt. In turn, he’s reimbursed by cash, check, or online money transfer. It’s not unusual for someone to express their gratitude by leaving him a tip – however, it not something Cecere expects.
“I know that bags are touched by multiple individuals in the stores,” Cecere added. “That’s why I ask that there’s a designated area so that I can unpack the items. I take the bags with me so that the people can disinfect what I’ve brought to their homes.”
While Mister Rogers considered his neighborhood of small children, he likely never realized how his words would one day influence adults. In a time of scary news, it’s the helpers like Will Cecere that make things just a little bit better.