Volunteers Making A Difference In The Community

By: Staff Reports

Masks and social distancing in evidence among volunteers at a Lower Cape Outreach Council food distribution. LOWER CAPE OUTREACH COUNCIL PHOTO

The coronavirus pandemic has created extraordinary conditions that require a response unlike any seen before. With many people out of work and cut off from friends and family, the need for volunteers to meet the demand on food pantries, the need for personal protection gear and services provided by local governments and nonprofits has never been greater. Fortunately, local residents have stepped up and are making a difference. This week we profile a sampling of volunteers serving Chatham, Harwich, Orleans and the wider Cape community. If you'd like to help, visit the websites of local nonprofit organizations or BarnstableCounty.org for opportunities to help.

Sue Daly: Art For Virus Relief

For years, Sue Daly has donated proceeds from her artwork to nonprofit groups. It began years ago when a much-loved beagle was lost; she vowed if the dog was found, she'd help the people who work in animal shelters. The dog came back the next day. Some time later she was asked to illustrate a Mookie the Cat book by author Judith Kristen, who donates all of her proceeds to no-kill pet shelters.

“This was just the next thing,” Daly, a Chatham homeowner for the past dozen years and a full-time resident since last May, said of her “Paint the Town” project, proceeds from which are being donated to the Chatham Coronavirus Impact Fund. It began when she posted a photo of her oil painting of the Candy Manor on Facebook. “The phone rang off the hook,” she said. Paintings of The Chatham Squire and other downtown buildings also also attracted interest, and will now be auctioned online to benefit the fund. The auction at www.32auctions.com/Chathamfundmay runs from May 1 to 31.

“I really hope that this does make some kind of an impact,” she said. “I just love the response. I think people want to help out any way they can.”

Vanessa Card: Giving Back

Before the days of COVID-19, Vanessa Card of Orleans enjoyed sewing dresses for her girls, 4-year-old Lucy (who recently celebrated a socially distanced birthday) and 7½-year-old Hayden. Then the virus hit, and a friend expressed the need for PPE at the fire department, local nursing facilities and elsewhere. The girls now help their mom create hundreds of colorful masks and surgical caps for medical workers both local and nationwide.
For Card, the needs of medical workers have personal significance. She survived a sudden cardiac arrest in 2016, spent a week in a coma and a month in the hospital. She now lives with a pacemaker and defibrillator. When COVID-19 arrived on the Cape and social distancing became the rule of the day, Card was in the midst of seeing specialists and geneticists to diagnose a possible neuromuscular disease.
“Sewing has been a welcome distraction for me and has helped keep my mind from overthinking or worrying, especially since I’m high risk,” Card said. “From a place of living on borrowed time, after this community rallied around my little family to make sure we had everything we needed so I could just focus on healing, I move forward each day with gratitude and pay it forward as often as I can, as a way of saying thank you. The kindness I received was overwhelming.”

Alice Bonatt: Bringing Meals And A Smile

Alice Bonatt enjoys volunteering for the Elder Services of Cape Cod Meals on Wheels program in Harwich for the social interaction as well as the good feeling of helping out members of the community. With the arrival of COVID-19, however, the opportunity to interact has become a little bit different.
“Before, I could visit with my clients. Now I deliver to the porch, and I knock on the door to be sure each person knows their meal is outside,” Bonatt said. “This also, in some cases, gives me the opportunity to speak to each person and assure that they know I am looking forward to social distancing being over as much as they are.”
On delivery days, Bonatt picks up the day’s route sheet and a cooler filled with reheatable meals, including bread, dessert and milk. Then she is off to make her rounds. She delivers meals at least one day per week, taking on extra routes when needed. She has noticed that a few regular clients have stopped their meal deliveries during these days of social distancing, while new clients have also been added onto the routes. Everyone’s habits have been changed by the virus in one way or another, she noted.

Martha And Ted Miller: Keeping Food On The Table

For around 118 Chatham families, Ted and Martha Miller of the Chatham Food Pantry help bring home the bacon. Well, grocery staples like bread, milk and peanut butter, anyway.

The retired husband and wife are part of a small crew that operates the pantry from space provided by St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, with clients coming every two weeks to receive bags of groceries for free. Since the start of the COVID-19 emergency, their work has doubled; they now provide food distributions every week. Most of those who visit are previous clients who are under new financial pressure because of the pandemic.

The operation is designed for safety. The bags are prepared ahead of time inside the storage room. On distribution days, one pair of volunteers collects the bags from the storage room and brings them outside, while another set puts them in the trunks of clients’ vehicles. They wear gloves and maintain six-foot distancing at all times, she said. “We stay safe, but we know we’re doing a good thing,” Martha said.

The pantry happens because of the generosity of people who donate to the Lower Cape Outreach Council, and the help provided by local businesses like Chatham Bakery and Chatham Village Market, Ted said.

Seeing clients—even through closed car windows—who put their hands on their hearts or pantomime thank you, “that’s all we need,” he said.

Ellen Ehrhart: A Personal Touch

As volunteer manager of the Lower Cape Outreach Council’s food pantry at the Orleans United Methodist Church, Ellen Ehrhart is a link in the chain of support for people in need.

These days, she said, “We don’t have individuals coming into the building. We still need to help those families, so there’s curbside food distribution. We make up bags of staples, fresh produce, and add paper goods and detergent. People drive up, we take their information, they open their trunks, and volunteers put bags of food in. We give them a word of encouragement, give them a mask if they don’t have one, and make sure they have gloves.”

The personal touch is part of what drew Ehrhart toward greater involvement with volunteering. She’s been working with LCOC for 25 years.

“A lot of people are not comfortable reaching out now,” Ehrhart said, “but hopefully, as times get better, they’ll remember the need to help others and keep that in consideration.”

Adam Spencer: Lifting Spirits With Dance

A community approach has always taken centerstage at Studio 878 in Chatham, where Adam Spencer, the studio’s director and owner of the Adam in Chatham ballroom dance school, faced a challenge. How could he keep students engaged, moving and feeling included while following social distancing protocols? How could he provide some relief from isolation and keep the connection and interactive qualities of dance alive in the days of COVID-19?
The answers came in the form of live, online dance classes by Spencer, Brandon Simmons, Angel Fox, and Samantha Gendreau in ballroom, jazz and ballet as well as live lectures on dance history, anatomy, social studies and dance, dance appreciation and dance film analysis. Many had their spirits lifted through the “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” performances given by Spencer, Fox and Simmons outside the windows of the Victorian and Broad Reach Healthcare/Liberty Commons assisted living facilities, with residents and health care workers alike enjoying the beauty of dance while safely behind glass.
“When the world pauses and you take away physical contact,” Spencer said, “we are forced to assess the emptiness that grows. My work and beliefs are based so much on the relationship and nuances of touch, pressure, of push and pull that hopefully all will start discovering the relationship of their body in space. It makes us much better humans. It's a natural instinct and it shouldn't be taken for granted.”

John Bathelt: Getting Lunch Out

On March 18, due to the pandemic, the community center closed its doors, ending the on-site lunch program for seniors. Volunteers stepped up to ensure food would continue to get to those who need it.

“I have to say that it’s an honor and a big rush to see the faces of the customers we deliver to. They are very grateful to receive the lunches,” said John Bathelt.

Bathelt is part of a team of volunteers who deliver about 50 lunches per day. Julie Witas, the COA’s program specialist, is coordinating the volunteers and preparing the delivery routes, he said.

After Bathelt retired from his position as an I.T. engineer for Kaiser Permanente in Colorado a little more than a year ago, he moved to Harwich and went to the community center several days a week to work out. He observed the great job COA Director Emily Mitchell and her staff were doing for seniors.

“I am impressed by the upbeat attitude of the elderly. Also by the effort of the COA staff and volunteers. Rain or shine, cold or warm, the program goes on until the need is done,” Bathelt said.

Tammy Tansey: Giving Safety

Local fitness instructor and kindergarten teaching assistant Tammy Tansey had been contemplating ways to volunteer during the COVID-19 crisis when a fellow member of the B Free Rockstars at B Free Coaching and Wellness offered her the use of a sewing machine and the supplies needed to make masks.

“She brought me all the stuff and I got going. Orders started coming in like crazy,” she said. “It takes a village.”

In the mornings, Tansey is a kindergarten instructional assistant for Harwich Elementary School, which, like most school districts on the Cape, is using remote learning. But when classes are through for the day, Tansey turns back to the sewing machine, continuing to crank out batches of masks.

“I did 15 for Wingate, and some for multiple families, and I’ve also done them for a couple nurses in Boston,” Tansey said, adding that she’s working on some for a brain injury unit. “I appreciate knowing that I’m keeping people safe or helping them stay safe and knowing that they’re keeping their families safe. Plus, I really love giving. I’m a kindergarten teacher. What kindergarten teacher doesn’t like to give?

Anne Sigsbee, Cecil Newcomb: Delivering Masks To Heroes

Even as most people are rightly making a point of staying home, retired physician Dr. Anne Sigsbee and her husband, Cecil Newcomb, are racking up the miles on their truck. Following a carefully plotted itinerary, they pick up face shields and masks from crafty donors, drop off supplies they need to keep producing them, and distribute the finished products around the Cape.

It’s a logistical challenge, but it’s worthwhile. Members of the Cape Cod Makers have been cranking out face shields on 3D printers, and a “cottage industry of sewers” is mass producing face masks, Sigsbee said. They drive various components of the face shields to different volunteers, collect the completed items and bring them to shelters, food pantries and nursing homes. They recently delivered 5,000 face shields to Cape Cod Hospital, an “unimaginable success” carried out by an army of volunteers.

While the people making the masks and face shields toil in solitude, Sigsbee and Newcomb get the pleasure of delivering the protective gear to the people who need them, workers on the front line on the battle against COVID-19. It’s a wonderful feeling, she said.

“[On] this part of the Cape especially, volunteerism comes naturally to people,” Sigsbee said.

At one local nursing home, their delivery of masks and face shields came in the nick of time. “The recipient just broke down in tears,” she said.

Patricia Bolduc: Mask Maker

When business slowed at Patricia Bolduc’s Orleans business, Fabric Creations, through which she makes curtains, Roman shades, custom slipcovers and more, she gathered her scraps and started to sew, this time making masks for people in need.

“Because of what I do for my job, I have a lot of pieces left, so I’ve been incorporating those pieces into masks,” Bolduc said, adding that while fabric is still available, it’s getting tougher to find, and the elastic to go around the ears tougher still. “The biggest challenge is getting the elastic. I usually get elastic overnight for my work. I ordered two reels two weeks ago and am still waiting.”

Bolduc said the volunteerism has given her a boost during a difficult time.

“I've certainly enjoyed volunteering through this. I like to be able to do something else for somebody for a change,” she said. “So many people need things and there are so many people still without masks.”

Bolduc estimates she’s made several hundred masks so far. 

“I started out doing it for just my friends. From there it exploded,” she said, adding that she’s donated to Friends’ Market and a veteran’s group. “Some of my masks are all the way across the country. Anybody that calls, if I can do it, I do it.”

This story was reported and written by William F. Galvin, Ed Maroney, Alan Pollock, Jen Sexton-Riley, Kat Szmit and Tim Wood.