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House-Bound RV Owners Loan Their Idle Vehicles To Frontline Workers In Need

Nurse practitioner Chris Negrete, his wife Megan and their kids in front of an RV loaned to them by strangers as part of RV for MDs. (Courtesy of Megan Negrete)
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Debra Lesin Elliott of Woodland Hills is a nurse practitioner who works with diabetes patients. And while she feels fortunate she can avoid exposure to the virus by engaging in telemedicine, she's concerned for colleagues on the front lines.

"I really wanted to do something," Elliott said. "So as I was searching around the Internet and Facebook and asking for opportunities to help contribute to the cause, I came across RVs 4 MDs."

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The newly-formed Facebook group is now pairing owners of recreational vehicles with frontline health care workers who are caring for COVID-19 patients and need temporary housing away from their families.

Debra and her husband, Chris, had a 23-foot C-class RV sitting idle on the street.

"We use it almost exclusively for music festivals; it's kind of our summertime amusement," said Chris. "Of course, they're all called off this summer. It's like a musical instrument sitting around not getting played. We weren't going to be using it. It just seemed the only logical thing to do."

The RVs4MDs group launched on March 24. That's when a Texas woman, Emily Phillips, went on Facebook seeking housing help for her husband, an emergency room doctor. A woman named Holly Haggart, whom she'd never met, answered her plea and the two became friends and founders of the group. As of Memorial Day, they've matched 1,460 frontline health care workers with borrowed RVs.

"These are people doing this 100% for free out of the goodness of their heart," said Amber Bouton, an RVs4MDs volunteer in charge of the pairings. "Not a cent is being exchanged. They're doing it to save lives."

Chris Negrete and his kids, standing outside the RV loaned to him by Debra and Chris Elliott of Woodland Hills as part of the RVs for MDs program. (Courtesy of Megan Negrete)

The Elliotts were one-half of an early RVs4MDs match-up. The other half? Megan and Chris Negrete, of Whittier.

Chris is also a nurse practitioner who was returning to work in early April, after a scheduled leave. The couple has a 6-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son. Megan Negrete has asthma -- a potential risk factor for the disease. So, they were desperate to find Chris a place to live safely away from the family.

"We had about a week to figure it out before he was going back to work," Megan says. "And it started to make him really nervous about being around us, so we pretty quickly started looking for a place. It's like, where's he gonna go?"

Thanks to the Elliotts' decision to loan out their RV, he didn't need to go far at all.

"Within 24 hours we had it in our driveway," Megan said. "They brought it down for us and set it all up, taught us how to use it, and it's been great since."

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Chris Negrete said that living at home, albeit on the driveway, provides an almost normal family existence.

"Usually I get home around when the kids are napping," he said. "And then I take a shower and the kids wake up. They play outside and I come outside with them, but I social-distance from them."

And that's challenging for everyone, both emotionally and -- oftentimes -- logistically, especially when dealing with a toddler.

"Sometimes he forgets about social distancing and sometimes I have to run away from him because he runs towards me," Chris laughs. "But, you know, it's difficult for them to process sometimes. And it's been tough on them."

Just how tough became evident to the couple on May 15. That's when the Airforce Thunderbirds flew over Southern California to honor COVID-19 workers. Chris couldn't be there; he was working. Megan says as the fly-by happened, their daughter, Noeline, was brought to tears over missing a family life that -- for now -- is on hold.

"They've lost an innocence that a lot of kids still get to have," Megan said. "But I also love that my kids' hearts are softening for other people."

And there are other valuable experiences the pandemic has brought to her children -- not the least of which is witnessing the Elliotts' generosity. Debra Elliott says in the weeks since they dropped off their RV on the Negretes' driveway, they've developed a friendship they're certain will last.

"We can't wait to have them over to go swimming," she said, adding that she's encouraging them to take a few days and camp at Malibu State Park before returning the RV.

When that will be is uncertain. But for now, Chris Negrete said, he's grateful to have safe living quarters within feet of his front yard, where he can watch his children play -- even if just from a distance.

Stephanie O'Neill's reporting is supported through a journalism fellowship at the Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado, Boulder funded byDirect Relief, a non-profit humanitarian aid group.