“You come on any time,” Benkendorf said from Sunrise, Fla. “I’ve got a dog you can play with. I’ve got a spare room. Anytime you need a vacation. If they close you down again, Stacie, you’re welcome.”
Weldon and Benkendorf have never met in-person, but over the past four months they’ve developed a friendship after matching with each other on a website. Quarantine Buddy, founded by two Cornell University students in April, matches people from around the world based on their background and interests, and they meet virtually.
The website has helped more than 50,000 people — spanning all 50 U.S. states and more than 100 countries — build friendships while stuck at home.
“We kind of realized how lonely and isolating this can be for so many people,” said Jordyn Goldzweig, a Quarantine Buddy co-founder. “The pandemic itself really brought out the fact that a lot of people are isolated, and even though we have technology, people aren’t utilizing it to meet other people. We really wanted to do our part.”
In March, Goldzweig and co-founder Sam Brickman left Cornell for their respective New Jersey and New York homes due to the coronavirus outbreak. A few weeks later, the junior computer science majors met with one of their professors, Pam Silverstein, on Zoom. After discussing a project, Silverstein expressed how thankful she was to speak with someone, because she hadn’t left her house in about a week.
Goldzweig and Brickman have worked on multiple projects together, including an application last year called “Zing” that connects classmates. They expanded that idea to assist people in situations such as Silverstein’s.
They spent two all-nighters shaping the website, staying awake on coffee and electronic dance music. They created a survey with nine questions that allows users to customize what they are looking for in a friend during the pandemic, whether it be someone to work out and study with or someone to complain to.
About two weeks later, Brickman was eating chicken tacos when Goldzweig texted him, informing him sign-ups for the website were skyrocketing. Brickman checked his email to see New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) mentioned Quarantine Buddy in his daily briefing. That unexpected gesture made Quarantine Buddy known internationally.
“I don’t think we slept for that entire night as the sign-ups were coming in,” Brickman said. “We were just continually monitoring the code base to make sure that nothing crashed and we were able to store all the new people coming in.”
Brickman said participants range from age 18 to 97. In addition to creating one-on-one connections, Goldzweig and Brickman constructed group events, such as weekly book clubs, fantasy football conversations and discussions after episodes of The Bachelorette.
Every day, Brickman said he receives emails thanking him for the project, and he said some people have offered to include them in their wills. They plan to continue the website after the coronavirus passes, noting the website also benefited participants from areas that didn’t go into lockdown.
That’s good news for Weldon, 52, and Benkendorf, 64, who say they’ve developed a family through Quarantine Buddy. Weldon is alone in her home, but she feels as if she has eyes around the world through her virtual friends. She and Benkendorf meet at least once every week and attend group events.
Even after their two-hour conversation, Weldon and Benkendorf met again the next day for a weekly female support group. But Benkendorf wasn’t comfortable leaving her virtual friend alone for 24 hours without an outlet.
“Stacie, I’m here any time,” Benkendorf said at the end of their meeting. “So morning, noon or night. At night if it gets stir crazy, call me.”