Berkshire community rallies to support health care 'heroes'
Colorful, heart-shaped signs appeared last month along the road outside Berkshire Medical Center.
Catered meals have been provided to health care staffers by local restaurants, some subsidized by community members.
And on Thursday, workers emerged from their shifts to find pastel-colored plastic Easter eggs left on their cars.
"Almost all the cars in the BMC parking lot got EGGED with positivity!!!" Kacey Hatch posted to her Facebook page.
Hatch, a phlebotomist who works in BMC's Medical Arts Complex, shared five photos of pastel-colored plastic eggs left on cars parked in an employee lot. Each of the eggs contained treats, including wrapped chocolate and mints, and a fortune cookie-size paper message thanking the workers.
The Easter eggs are among the growing acts of kindness being directed at Berkshire County health care workers — frontline responders to the COVID-19 pandemic. In recent weeks, community members have sent hospital and nursing home workers cards and meals, made window visits, and have posted placards and other works of art thanking health facility workers for continuing to work each day, despite the risks to their own health.
"Real heroes don't wear capes. They wear scrubs, work in hospitals and are called Health Care Workers," read the message in one of the eggs. "Thank YOU for being our Super Heroes!"
Another read: "YOU are the greatest hero in this story. Your intelligence, bravery and compassion are the saving grace of this nation. Thank you for your service to humanity and Berkshire County. We are so grateful for you!"
Hatch thanked the anonymous giver in the post, writing, "You definitely made a lot of hard working health care workers' days by doing so! We need more people like you in times like these."
Acts of kindness toward health care workers and caregivers are coming from all corners of the Berkshires.
From the north, it's efforts like professional fighter and North Adams native Gail Grandchamp and patient loved ones standing outside windows bringing ongoing messages of hope to the staff and residents of Williamstown Commons, which is battling to contain and reduce a coronavirus spread in the facility that has seen 13 deaths in recent days.
It's North Adams restaurants, like Grazie and Desperados, which are not only delivering sponsored meals to frontline workers, but also are trading meals to sustain each other's workers.
To the south, it has been places like Plaskolite in Sheffield for donating plastic for face shields, and an anonymous gardener who donated pots of flowers to cheer up staff at Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington, that are lending support with their own best resources.
"Seeing all these gestures in the community makes me feel appreciated and happy to see everyone coming together in a time of need and showing kindness and compassion towards each other," Hatch said via chat message. "There's so many negative things out there today in the news and to spread positivity like this really shows that a simple act of kindness has the power to change someone's whole day."
Donated snacks and sponsored meals have been delivered steadily to Berkshire Health Systems workers, from trays of homemade brownies to catered bagged and boxed meals by the hundreds.
"Berkshire Health Systems is so fortunate to serve a community that embodies the word 'generosity," BHS spokesman Michael Leary said via email.
"We have received dozens of donations of food and other goods for our extremely hard-working staff across all of our units and departments, from clinical to support services, and we are so grateful to all who have done this. At some point in the future, we will be taking full stock of all who have supported us with such heartfelt gifts and we will be thanking each of them individually and collectively."
This past week, Gable Electric partnered with Zucchini's Restaurant to sponsor 50 grab-and-go dinners for BHS workers on a first-come, first-served basis.
Pittsfield resident Beth Radsken rallied her neighbors through their Mountain Drive Facebook group, raising $600 in a matter of days to help sponsor meals for hospital workers. She coordinated with Stacie's Corner Cafe, located on the neighboring Dalton town line, as well as with Jennifer Bailey of BHS, to sponsor and schedule the delivery of meals for three shifts of hospital workers.
Radsken said that donations for the effort came from beyond her neighborhood, and said that her own daughters, one in Newton and one in Maryland, liked the idea so much, they borrowed it for their own neighborhoods.
"In the midst of something so terrible, it's amazing to see a side of humanity that's so kind and giving and caring of one another," she said.
The concept of helping others while helping keep local businesses in business is magnified in a current Berkshire Money Management crowdfunding campaign called "Hometown Meals for Hometown Heroes" for Berkshire Medical Center staff.
Berkshire Money Management founder and owner Allen Harris, who also has been coordinating an effort to collect and purchase personal protective equipment for health care workers, said the meals campaign was spurred by his friend Michelle Kroboth, a Mazzeo's Ristorante worker.
Harris said they have been partnering with restaurants with catering capacity in need of business, and scheduling and delivering food to hospital workers safely so as not to overwhelm a very busy operation.
His firm seeded the Hometown Meals fund with $10,000, and community members since have matched that in a matter of days, assuring that at least 200 hospital workers will get catered meals from local businesses at least every Wednesday through the beginning of May. Harris additionally is paying for 800 meals to be catered for workers by Chef Rob Burnell of The Red Lion Inn.
"It's seriously amazing," said Kroboth, who is coordinating with restaurants. She said she is focused on hiring businesses that might have had to lay off workers.
"For a lot of waitstaff and people working in the restaurant business, pay is a week-to-week thing," she said. "If we're able to pump money into local restaurants to help until they can bring local people back, it's a good thing."
Giving is full circle
With dine-in business shut down for the time being, Flavours of Malaysia chef-owner Sabrina Tan and her husband, Chin Hua Lee, have kept busy in recent weeks cooking, packaging and delivering hundreds upon hundreds of meals for a range of workers and residents, from the beneficiaries of Pittsfield's grab-and-go program to staff in various BHS divisions, from radiology to custodial.
Tan also has exercised her creative talents by hand-drawing thank-you notes on citrus fruits, which are included in her meals, and sewing and donating face masks for anyone who stops by the restaurant for pickup.
"I'm lucky I can do it," Tan said. "I have a restaurant and a commercial kitchen and it all started with our community. Everybody is pitching in asking, 'How can I help?'
"People may have friends or family that are working on the front lines and they don't know what to do or how to help. Giving food is the one thing they can do for people to show their appreciation for so many people working on the front lines and behind the scenes."
Tan said full credit goes to members of the Berkshire community for coming through for others in need time and time again.
Until recently, she and Lee also owned Tavern at The A in Pittsfield, an events venue that they donated to host benefit after benefit. The couple has met countless numbers of people showing up to donate food, music, raffle items, cash and just to rally behind people in need, from fire victims to cancer patients.
While there have been reports in other parts of the U.S. of people boycotting Asian businesses and hurling racial insults at Asians since the first COVID-19 outbreak was reported in Wuhan, the capital of China's Hubei province, Tan, who is Malaysian, said she has seen no sign of hatred in her business, thanks to loyal customers and friends.
"People know who we are in the community, and thank goodness for that," she said.
Being able to own a Berkshires business and to help others, she said, "all this comes from people who supported us, too. They keep us alive."
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