TEWKSBURY — During this time of social distancing and stay at home recommendations, people can feel helpless and isolated. Medical professionals are heeding the call, first responders and leaders are pivoting their practices to keep systems running, and grocery and food workers are doing their best to keep everyone supplied. What then, can the rest of us do?
Reaching out to the community, the Town Crier tried to capture just some of the ways that residents and local businesses have found to help the effort, ease anxiety, and continue feeling useful.
Dewing Elementary School kindergarten aide Cheryl Barnes began broadcasting Facebook Live segments each morning as a way to reach families with young children.
“I wanted to do something productive,” said Barnes, who has become a resource for parents.
Barnes is sharing information about other online activities, such as children’s author/illustrator Mo Willems’ 1 p.m. doodle lesson, promoting the school Grab and Go lunch program, making cards for the elderly and more.
The program has become a place for families to be social, trying to engage young children and provide some semblance of structure during these long days.
Eva Durkin emailed about Barnes, saying, “Every day she goes live on Facebook with kid activities, sourcing educational resources for our families, coordinating collections for our in-town nurses and (most important) a smile and encouragement for those that need it.”
And Linda McCarthy commented about Barnes’ activities: “Some are simple but so thoughtful like all lighting a candle at 7 p.m. on the same night as a sign of unity, putting red hearts on your front door so the nurses and doctors and other essentials can see it as they drive by, or put(ting) bears and Easter eggs in your windows or other areas of your yard so people can drive around and ‘hunt’ for these things.”
Donald Bain shared that his daughter, Christina, a Tewksbury resident and RN on the Progressive Unit at Parkland Medical Center in Derry, New Hampshire, reached out to the community asking for children to create artwork for patients, knowing that visitors would be restricted and experience some loneliness.
Bain received numerous positive responses and before she knew it, drawings by kids streamed into the hospital. According to Parkland’s Facebook page, “Christina has proudly displayed these drawings in patient rooms at Parkland Medical Center and continues to receive new drawings each day.”
Personal protective equipment, also known as PPE, has been in short supply at every medical facility. Nurses and doctors, institutions and advocates have all reached beyond the regular supply chain, asking businesses and individuals to scour their closets and storage rooms looking for these essential pieces of protective gear.
Shawsheen Valley Technical High School donated medical supplies and personal protective equipment to local medical facilities with staffers gathering items from the school’s Life Science programs and Automotive Collision Repair and Refinishing program. The Tech was able to donate gowns, N95 masks, nitrile gloves, face shields, and gallons of antiseptic soap, among other items.
The supplies were donated to Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, Sunny Acres Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Chelmsford, New England Pediatric Care in North Billerica, Winchester Hospital, and the Billerica Police Department, organizations which partner with Shawsheen Tech during the regular school year, according to the information provided online.
Businesses in Tewksbury answered the call for supplies, and through a phone network of volunteers was able to provide supplies to Winchester Hospital. For example, Route 38 Tattoo donated gloves, Home Depot donated paint suits for the nurses at Winchester Hospital, Aesthetics Exchange in Tewksbury made donations, Wilmington Hardware and Sherwin Williams donated paint suits and Home Depot Reading also provided supplies.
And in the absence of donated supplies, a nationwide movement to make hand-sewn masks has taken hold. Tewksbury Public Schools’ head nurse Kelly Constantino said that former TPS head nurse Elaine Walsh made masks for Lawrence General Hospital, and Steve Allard is also making masks for those who need them. Lori Gallant and Sona Kazanjian, among many others, are making masks at home, following up on a request from Lowell General who asked for them on their website.
While the fabric masks are not a recommended defense against the coronavirus, the CDC website states that in a crisis situation, “where facemasks are not available, HCP [health care providers] might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort. However, homemade masks are not considered PPE, since their capability to protect HCP is unknown. Caution should be exercised when considering this option. Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face.”
Guidelines for the Lowell General request may be found at https://www.lowellgeneral.org/news-and-media/news/calling-our-crafty-community.
Joan Unger of Tewksbury shared that her granddaughter in Chelmsford is making masks for Lowell hospitals, having set up a production line in her basement for the cause. Many residents are using their sewing skills and surplus fabric for this purpose.
Patricia Polleys emailed that Alicia Candelino of Alicia’s Alteration Service in Wilmington has been making masks since she heard the first request, and her daughter, who lives in Tewksbury, has been sourcing fabric and elastic for her. Jayne Wellman shared that Rick Crowley of Handsome Hobo Neckwear in Tewksbury is making masks. Mary Dumas is working with all the sewers, artists and tailors at Western Avenue Studios & Lofts in Lowell making “close to 1,000 masks” as part of the Million Mask Challenge.
However, several hospital systems in the country have stopped accepting donations, so prior to embarking on sewing, please check with the local institutions. That said, masks may be worn by residents in a social distancing setting such as a grocery store, providing a layer of comfort.
The masks will not stop small droplets of COVID-19 from getting through, however. Some institutions have received so many masks now that they are pausing their requests. And, at the time of writing, the CDC is considering new recommendations that everyone wear a mask if going outside, so the guidelines and need is constantly changing.
Wicked Cheesy created make at home pizza kits for people, and most restaurants in Tewksbury are providing to-go service and practicing social distancing protocols with curbside pickup.
Magic Brush created to-go pottery kits. Check with any store or restaurant before going out, as many have adjusted hours. The list of essential businesses is constantly being updated by the Commonwealth, so several businesses are in flux.