Doing Good: Community Comes Together To Help During Virus Emergency

By: Tim Wood

Topics: COVID-19

Tierney Voelkel with donations provided through Mahi Gold's website to benefit Monomoy Community Services. COURTESY PHOTO 

Recognizing that many local residents are hurting because of the closures and other restrictions imposed by the coronavirus emergency, businesses, individuals and nonprofit organizations are stepping up to the plate to provide much-needed support and services, ranging from financial donations to supplying families with diapers and other necessities to sewing protective masks for healthcare workers.

“This community has been just amazing,” said Chatham Elementary School Principal Robin Millen.

While schools are closed, Millen and other staff members continue to provide food to local families through the elementary school's community food pantry, which typically supports 220 people each month. Millen anticipates an increase in demand and has reached out to the school's families, but the pantry almost had to close when the Boston Food Pantry said last week it could no longer provide food.

In stepped the Chatham Wayside Inn and owners David and Gail Oppenheim, who donated $5,000 worth of food through its suppliers. Inn partner Shane Coughlin and manager Jenn Mentzer are working with Millen to make sure she has the supplies necessary for at least the next two weeks.

“Hopefully we'll be able to continue for as long as we need to,” Millen said. This is above and beyond the free breakfasts and lunches being provided by the Monomoy School District (see story, page 3); Millen is working with families to arrange pickup days. “We'll be a good avenue for communications for our families,” she added. Several families of middle and high school students have reached out for assistance. “I know there's a definite need,” Millen said. Families need only call the school at 508-945-5135 to participate in the program.

Millen is working closely with Monomoy Community Services, which also received a $5,000 donation from the Wayside and the Oppenheims to purchase Stop and Shop gift cards for families in need. MCS, which provides childcare, social service and financial support, has become a focal point in the shutdown for many local families.

“A lot of people are saying we're OK, OK with food, but we're trying to figure out how to get everything else in place that's needed,” said MCS Director Theresa Malone. She's working with the schools and her staff, as well as Pat Vreeland, who heads up the Chatham Children's Fund, to keep in touch with local families they know are feeling the impact from the shutdown, calling them at least once or twice a week.

Mahi Gold has set up a website (www.mahigold.com/collections/chatham-childrens-fund) where people can purchase diapers, grocery cards, toilet paper and other products to donate to the Children's Fund.

“In between moments of taking care of our kids and laying awake at night stressed, we are acutely aware of the fact that there are families who are suddenly without any source of income,” Mahi Gold owner Becky Voelkel wrote on the store's Facebook page. “As the parents of two small children, we can't imagine the stress of not having food for their tiny mouths or enough clean diapers to last the week.” By teaming up with MCS and the Children's Fund, Voelkel wrote that she hopes to encourage customers and residents who are able to donate these desperately needed items.

Hangar B owner Tracy Shields is also working with MCS to provide free food to its client families, who will receive a code to use on the restaurant's website when ordering certain items, such as breakfast sandwiches and silver dollar pancakes. The code will provide a 100 percent discount, and MCS will cover discounted costs to pay for supplies and to help keep the airport restaurant's staff working.

Shields said several regulars made donations to help cover the program's costs.

“There was a growing interest from the customers, who were concerned about working families in town,” she said. “The response has been awesome. We've been getting so many donations.” More than $5,000 had been raised as of Monday.

The restaurant has worked out a takeout process whereby food is ordered and purchased through the website (hangarbchatham.com) and customers are notified by text when it will be ready. The customer then texts when they arrive and the food is brought out to them, to minimize contact. “Once we got the hang of it it worked out really well,” Shields said.

The concern isn't so much food security, she added, but that people are frightened and also going a bit stir crazy stuck at home. “Even just in a little way, coming by and picking up something different than the usual food fare could create some happiness,” she said. It also helps both the mental health and pocketbooks of her workers, only a few of whom she's been able to keep on. If business picks up she hopes to bring others back. “This is our extended family, and not being able to give people shifts really sucks,” she said.

Because of the ban on public gatherings, MCS had to cancel Tools of the Trade, one of its major annual fundraisers. The Wayside, which hosts the event, along with the Oppenheims and Coughlin donated $10,000 to the agency to make up for the lost revenue. Coughlin urged people who would otherwise have attended Tools of the Trade to continue to support MCS. “The need is now more than ever,” he said.

Malone said she's concerned that more families will have financial difficulties if the shutdown continues long term. “We're talking about families who couldn't handle if a washing machine broke before, they're so paycheck to paycheck,” she said. “This is going to be worse.” And when things return to normal, there may be more families in need of childcare than before as parents work longer hours to make up for lost income. The town's childcare voucher program is slated to get a boost to $75,000 if approved at the annual town meeting, but with the timing of the meeting in question, the funding could be delayed, or, more likely, won't be enough, Malone said.

“I'm hoping some really big pockets come through,” she said.

The YMCA of Cape Cod is offering free childcare for healthcare workers, free responders and other essential workers at Harwich Elementary School as well as several other locations around the Cape. Children and staff will be temperature-checked before being admitted. Informational forms must be completed at the Y website at ymcacapecod.org.

In Harwich, Jane Bessette of Stitchology posted a video on her Facebook page (www.facebook.com/stitchologysewing/) showing how to make face masks. She'd received requests about how to make basic masks that can cover the N95 masks and stretch out their useful life. Local residents as well as friends from all over the country have made masks to send to hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, first responders and others.

Other businesses are also providing an outlet for residents who may be feeling stressed. Power Yoga of Cape Cod teachers are offering free online yoga and meditation classes (shorturl.at/qvK25). Harwich Youth Counselor Sheila House said Barnstable County Human Services's 211 directory offers “amazing resources.” She's heard many stories about people offering to shop, walk dogs and do other tasks for neighbors.

“Random acts of kindness are plentiful in Harwich,” she said.

In Orleans, the Rock Harbor Grill is devoting 100 percent of its revenue from Tuesday night curb-side takeout sales to its staff, who saw reduced hours or were laid off because of the restaurant closure. The first “Team Tuesday” March 17 brought a heartfelt response from the community, according to owner Chuck Konner.

“I couldn't believe the amount of people that came out and donated,” he said. “I was astounded by the generosity of our community and how they care for our staff. People are good in a time of need.” He added that he hopes the proceeds will carry the staff through until the 18 Old Colony Way restaurant can fully reopen.

Nauset Regional High School students are volunteering to deliver food orders from the Orleans Whole Food Store and Main Street Books. The free service is available to residents of Dennis, Harwich, Chatham, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham and Wellfleet from 2 to 4 p.m., with a minimum 10-item order. Call 508-255-6540 with a prepared list of items.

If you know of local residents or organizations who are going above and beyond at this difficult time, let us know and we will highlight their work in the paper. Email editor@capecodchronicle.com or call 508-945-2220 and leave a message for editor Tim Wood.