By Carol Stiffler
Fred Rogers always knew what to say to make us feel better.
Mr. Rogers, as he was known, shared his intense love, compassion, and understanding with us and would have known just what to say as we face the coronavirus pandemic, arguably one of the scariest events in modern history.
“My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping,’” he recalled.
Though Rogers died in 2003, his timeless wisdom is still echoing around the world. Rogers was a champion for children, but his advice to “look for the helpers” can bring comfort to anyone, especially now.
Look for the helpers at Helen Newberry Joy Hospital, where doctors, nurses, and support staff are literally waiting for the life-threatening risk of COVID-19 to walk through their doors. They won’t go home and shelter in place like we can. Though their lives are much more endangered than ours, they are brave, ready and waiting to help.
How do they deal with the anxiety? “I mop the floors,” one nurse said through her face mask. “I open the windows and listen to the birds.”
Other locals overcame their anxiety and donated blood at the March 23 blood drive for the Upper Peninsula Regional Blood Bank. The Newberry area usually has a handful of donors – the usual suspects – and nets an average of 30 units of blood.
“This time, there were a lot of faces I did not recognize,” said Mary Nutkins, a retired LPN who assisted with the blood drive.
Sixty-three people showed up to give blood, and 55 units were collected.
“It was the best we’ve ever had,” Nutkins said.
Elsewhere in the community, volunteer firefighter Chris Wendt devised a plan to get groceries into the hands of the sick and elderly without them having to leave home.
Wendt, who serves on the Newberry Fire Department, pitched his idea to the department: to protect the most vulnerable members of our communities. Armed with the caller’s specific shopping list, Wendt and other fire department members head to whichever grocery store the caller prefers to pick up chicken, pop, or whatever they need. The volunteer calls them with the total costs on the drive back, and the money is waiting between the caller’s screen and storm door by the time the delivery arrives.
Recipients wear gloves, and keep a strict distance from the volunteers, but they are so thankful.
“They’re very appreciative,” said John Wendt, NFD fire chief and Chris’s father. “They’re always thanking us for doing it.”
In another effort to help the homebound, several area churches are recording their Sunday messages and airing them on 1450 WNBY and 96.7 Flash FM radio stations. The first Sunday quarantine service was held on March 29, to the relief of church members.
“Jim and I listened to the service while drinking our coffee,” said Francie Waybrant of Newberry. Waybrant sent a message of gratitude to Melinda VanderSys, her pastor. “We miss attending church and spending time with our church family. It is great to have the church mailings and being able to listen to a church service.”
There’s more – there is always more.
Look at Linus Parr and Bob and Cheryl Powell, who are sewing face masks to give away so others will be protected.
Watch as Nancy Grewe, Four Corners resident, sends home-cooked meals to her isolated neighbor, who is in his 80s.
Even without directly interacting, neighbors are hoping to lift spirits by decorating their doors and windows with hearts and messages of hope. They’re playing scavenger hunt games and putting specific items or images in the window – a sun one day, a teddy bear another.
It’s what we can do. We can’t fix the biggest problem and make coronavirus go away, but we can hold each other close and make this hard time easier to bear.