If you’re having a hard time seeing the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, we suggest trying the view from a different tunnel—the Lincoln Tunnel to be exact.
It’s there, on the New Jersey side, that one compassionate motel worker is making sure people have a roof over their heads by offering free rooms to folks in need.
North Bergen’s Lincoln Tunnel Motel has been in Brian Arya’s family for years. Although he harbored aspirations of an acting career, Arya began working the night shift there in 2012—then his father gifted him partial ownership five years ago.
At the onset of the pandemic, Arya saw firsthand the rising need for affordable places to stay. “People started getting quarantined, lockdowns starting happening, and then we started seeing an influx of unhoused people. You know, they just couldn’t afford rent anymore and so, they’d come to our motel,” he told CBS News.
Now, thanks to its creative co-proprietor, the humble hostelry is “internet famous.”
Tapping into his theater roots, Arya put together a steady stream of humorous, and often poignant videos and posted them to TikTok. The satirically dubbed “Motel Hell” series currently boasts a fan base of more than 880,000 followers.
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With such a sizable audience, Arya was struck with a notion: What would happen if he made free rooms available to TikTok followers who needed a place to stay?
@ltmotel thank u for helping our community! #motelhell #newjersey #TikTokGGT ♬ more than a woman x hot in herre – Lilli
Rather than simply ponder the notion, Arya turned it into a reality, launching a “Free Room for You” program offering accommodations at no charge to anyone without viable housing.
From there, he says, his good deed simply “snowballed.”
Donations of food, toiletries, and funding to front room charges started pouring in. Local college students trucked over a stack of supplies from their food pantry. Arya’s Amazon Wish List was quickly maxed out with generous donations from supporters nationwide.
As winter’s chill set in and temperatures began to fall, the motel’s “pay it forward brigade” rose to the challenge. About the time the thermometer tipped a chilly 18°, Arya cites the efforts of one anonymous donor who dropped off about 20 homemade care packages filled with the necessities, which he was then able to distribute to motel residents as well as people who come in off the street seeking help.
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Arya estimates he’s given away in the neighborhood of between 50 to 60 free rooms so far. He notes that those long-term guests whose housing evaporated at the pandemic’s onset have formed a bond that’s akin to family. “There’s definitely a community there,” Arya told CBS. “[You’ve] just got to get to know people, get to know their stories. And I’m fortunate I get to do that.”
With new coronavirus variants in the picture, there may still be dark days ahead. Until such times pass, however—to paraphrase the famous Motel 6 slogan—at this one New Jersey motel at least, “We’ll leave the light at the end of the tunnel on for you.”
(WATCH the video for this story below; Editor’s Note: Viewers outside the U.S. can watch the CBS video here.)
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