You know how it is. You finish a long and difficult workday and then realize you still have one more task to accomplish before you can go home — you need to stop at the grocery store. Some days, it can be simply overwhelming.
Now imagine how daunting that task would be if you had just completed a masked, gloved and emotionally draining extended shift as a healthcare worker. Wouldn’t it be nice if just that one thing — shopping — was taken off your to-do list?
For the healthcare heroes at Wellington Regional Medical Center, community volunteers stepped in to help out.
Wellington Councilman Michael Napoleone, together with Anne Caroline Valtin of the Great Charity Challenge and Liliane Stransky of the Step by Step Foundation, created the Grab-N-Go Pantry in partnership with Wellington Regional Medical Center.
By organizing donations and making purchases of essential items such as toilet paper, these volunteers made it possible for hospital workers to “shop” just prior to heading home. Non-perishable food, soap, cleaning products and more were all available at the pantry free of charge.
Napoleone saw the need and got the ball rolling early.
“Back in mid-March, when everything was starting to close down and people were panic-buying, I asked [WRMC CEO] Pam Tahan what we could actually do that would make things easier for her staff as they manned the front lines,” Napoleone recalled. “She thought a pantry would be a good idea because medical personnel were working long hours and, by the time they got to Publix, there was nothing left on the shelves.”
He reached out to Valtin to help make the idea a reality.
“I asked myself, ‘Who’s the most giving, volunteering person I know?’ and I called Anne Caroline,” Napoleone said. “In a matter of just a few hours, we had drafted a flyer, signed on with the Step by Step Foundation to handle monetary donations, created an event page and pushed it out.”
The event page read, in part: “We all owe a debt of gratitude to those medical professionals who show up every day and are dealing with the virus head-on. They know it will get worse before it gets better, but they are working long hours and putting themselves in harm’s way because it’s their job and their passion.”
Healthcare workers were first able to “shop” March 27 and throughout April, although the need died down a bit once supplies became more abundant at the stores.
“At the program’s inception, it was a key time,” Valtin said. “Personal cleaning supplies were getting hard to come by, so we donated antibacterial soap and shelf-stable pantry items like breakfast cereals and granola bars. When we found out some of the staff had young children, we began bringing in diapers.”
Valtin thanked Stransky for her assistance.
“She is known for fulfilling wish lists for local nonprofit organizations, so she was instrumental,” Valtin explained. “Anyone who wanted to help but was not comfortable with going shopping or dropping things off could donate via her Step by Step web site.”
When a donation would come in via the Step by Step web site or Facebook page, Stransky started shopping for essentials.
“I thought the Grab-N-Go Pantry was a great idea — marvelous,” Stransky said. “First responders have less time to buy groceries for themselves and for their kids at home. It was nice idea. The most important thing in a crisis like this is that people trust what we are doing in alliance with other organizations. People came together, especially the horse people. They responded right away to help. We become one, which is amazing.”
Napoleone estimates that approximately $8,000 was raised for the effort, not counting the dollar value of donated goods. Several thousand dollars were donated through Step by Step, and other organizations jumped in to help by offering grants, such as the Wellington Community Foundation, the Wellington Rotary Club, the Crowned Pearls of Wellington and the Village of Wellington. WRMC estimates that several hundred hospital staffers were served by the project.
“The Grab-N-Go Pantry was successful from the beginning because we live in a great community,” Napoleone said. “People stepped up in a big way, even those who may not have been sure where their next paycheck was coming from. The hospital had set up a big wire rack with wheels and, when I dropped off my first supply, it was packed.”
Valtin gave credit to the hospital as well.
“Wellington Regional did an amazing job organizing the items being dropped off,” she said. “Before you even stepped into the lobby, there was a shelving unit where you could drop things off. Items were moved throughout the day into a multipurpose room, where they were organized by categories. And they were very good about finding out what the workers were missing so we could bring them the most-needed items.”
Valtin was proud of how the community came together to support the Grab-N-Go Pantry. “I love facilitating things between a nonprofit and a donor,” she said. “This was just another one of those moments. It gave people a way to say thank you and support the people on the front lines. Change happens at the local level. Everybody played a small role.”
For Napoleone, actions speak louder than words.
“I’m a big believer in doing things, not just talking about things,” he said. “It’s important to look for ways you can help through actions, not just words. Grab-N-Go will definitely come back in a big way if it’s needed.”
While the pantry is not as crucial as it was in March and April, the Step by Step Foundation is still accepting donations, both monetary and in items for the pantry. Learn more at www.facebook.com/StepByStepFoundation.