As the COVID-19 pandemic and anxiety around it grow, the community is finding ways to support first responders, healthcare workers and others.
An area resident is sewing surgical masks for first responders, while local students are making cards, writing letters and making videos to offer hope and inspiration to healthcare professionals.
Restaurateurs, like Viron Rondos, owner of the restaurant that bears his name in Cheshire, are making free food deliveries to healthcare workers. Last week, the restaurant delivered a vehicle full of pizzas to emergency room staff at St. Mary's Hospital in Waterbury.
Meriden resident Apollo Maldonado, an artist and founder of the therapeutic art program “All Sketched Out” — through which he has visited hospitalized cancer patients and others — recently began offering a version of that program for area youth.
Maldonado has set up a video version of his professional studio in his own home and streams his virtual paintings, sketches and other art as he completes it online, via Facebook Live.
“I do everything and anything — traditional paintings digital paintings, portraits, cartoons,” Maldonado said, explaining since the COVID-19 pandemic began, his in-person art and classes “came to a screeching halt.”
“You will hear my voice. Instead of seeing me drawing, you will see what I'm drawing,” Maldonado said.
Maldonado said therapeutic art has been helpful for patients undergoing chemotherapy and other long, difficult medical procedures. He thought the same idea could be applied to the pandemic.
“People do need a distraction. As soon as I open up my newsfeed, it's COVID-19,” Maldonado said. “The whole thing, it's taken over every social media platform. I want to get back to doing art. If I can do it, live, help people think about something else,” Maldonado said.
Area teachers and school staff, like those at Thalberg and South End elementary schools in Southington, recently organized caravans to greet their students' families.
South End's caravan included 40 cars and lasted for three hours Thursday morning, said South End Principal Erin Nattrass.
“We had a lot of fun. The staff enjoyed it as much as the kids,” Nattrass said.
Efforts to keep students, staff and families connected are ongoing. Everyone, including school office staff, teachers and guidance counselors, has gotten involved. Staff are frequently checking in and video chatting with students and families.
“There's a lot of communication with parents, keeping things simple,” Nattrass said.
Meriden resident Claudia Pina, after attending a video-streamed church service in her own home, hatched an idea for children, as a way to give back. They began writing cards.
It started with her own children. But the number of children participating has grown. They're also writing letters and posting videos to a Facebook group “Kids Who Care.”
“We're asking other kids to create videos, write letters and post it. Healthcare professionals if they're having a bad day can read those,” said Pina, a therapist specializing in addiction treatment.
One letter, written by “Olivia, a 12-year-old girl that believes you can make a change,” encourages readers to “do everything they can to make a good impact on this world.”
“It's very well written and inspiring,” Pina said.
At Masonicare Health Center in Wallingford, Quinnipiac University graduate students Michelle Zubko and Julia Kowal participate in a program in which they live among senior citizens in the center's Ashlar Village assisted living community.
The program, which aims to bridge generational gaps, has changed since social distancing was implemented, Zubko and Kowal explained.
They had previously hosted in-person gatherings and game nights. But those needed to be scaled back. The two have found other ways to connect with residents, putting together personalized care kits, including cards with messages of affirmation that highlight different activities and hobbies residents enjoy.
“I think the fact we still get to be here is awesome,” Kowal said. “Because everything has changed, our classes are online. It's really great we were able to come back, while everything is going on.”
Social distancing came into play during a recent drum circle. All of the participants sat at least six feet apart. On Thursday, a nurse at the facility brought in her dog Betty to greet residents one by one.
Restrictions at the facility were further tightened over the weekend after report of the first resident diagnosed with COVID-19. All Ashlar Village residents are now asked to shelter in place.
Cheshire resident Corey Nash hosts the Cheshire Cast Podcast and moderates the Cheshire, CT Community Forum on Facebook. Nash, seeing there was no way to gather in person, started nightly Zoom video meetings with neighbors and friends.
The conversation on Wednesday veered across a wide range of casual topics, not unlike a typical after-work social hour in a restaurant or bar.
“It felt great because, because I think there's a different vibe when you'e seeing someone and talking with them versus just talking on the phone. When you have nine, 10, 15 people, it's like a party in the living room,” Nash said. “It's been really good for not only myself, but friends too, to get out of our heads, and just relieve some of the anxiety.”
The lengths of these online meetings has varied. One night, the session lasted for about five hours.
“Anything anybody is doing to make somebody laugh or chuckle even for a minute is adding to the benefit of the community at large,” Nash said.