State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

The Helpers: Centre Countians step up in the face of crisis

on April 30, 2020 12:51 PM

In these most unprecedented and difficult of times, Centre Countians from first responders and medical professionals to folks with a needle, thread, and a spirit of generosity are stepping up to meet the challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are just a few of their stories.

 

Distilling Safety 

There was a time, not that long ago, when hand sanitizer was an afterthought for most, often given away in grab bags at conferences and community events and stashed in junk drawers. 

But with the outbreak of COVID-19, the stuff became a hot commodity, flying off the shelves as people attempted to protect themselves from the virus. Suddenly, it couldn’t be found anywhere.

While hand sanitizer helps keep everyone safe, it is absolutely essential for people who work on the front lines dealing with medical emergencies.

With little sanitizer to be found, first responders were worried they might run out. 

Seeing the need, Big Spring Spirits owner Kevin Lloyd and his team realized they could make hand sanitizer; after all, the active ingredient is alcohol.

Lloyd had taken note of distilleries in Washington state, where the coronavirus first took hold in the United States, that had converted to production of hand sanitizer. He thought it was a way for the Big Spring distillery to be put to positive use in these difficult times.

And when the federal Food and Drug Administration relaxed some of the permitting process to allow distilleries to meet the urgent need for sanitizer, Big Spring Spirits jumped in.

Lloyd got to work making some recipes; the first batches essentially made use of waste products from the normal distilling process. 

The products were donated to local first responders through the Centre County Emergency Management Agency.

“We have been fortunate enough to be open and some people haven’t,” says Lloyd. “We saw there was an urgent need and it is something that we can do. We saw that it was an opportunity to give back to the local community.”

All of the agencies that received donations expressed their appreciation.

“A big thank you goes out to our friends at the neighboring Big Spring Spirits today for donating several bottles of locally made hand sanitizer (external use only!),” Bellefonte EMS wrote on Facebook. “We greatly appreciate the donation since this item is currently difficult to obtain from our normal suppliers or retailers.”

“Officers of the Bellefonte Borough Police Department are grateful to have a community that is involved in our safety,” Bellefonte police wrote on Facebook. “The Department is very appreciative of BIG SPRING SPIRITS of Bellefonte PA for their donation of custom distilled hand sanitizer to keep officers as safe as possible during this time of social distancing. Please remember: support your local businesses, as they support YOUR community.”

“Now we are just trying to make as much as we can,” says Lloyd.

The three fermenters the distillery usually used are now geared toward the production of hand sanitizer, and totes around the distillery are being used as well. Typically the distillery starts with corn, wheat, or rye to make spirits.

“We ferment it, get alcohol, and distil it. For this, we are using high-fructose corn syrup, and it is a little more challenging to figure out how to ferment that, so that was a learning curve,” Lloyd says. “The supply chain was hard, too, because we had to find little bottles now to put it in; we had to get the chemicals to denature the alcohol, so we had to do that for this process. ... It is similar – we are making alcohol, ethanol in the end. Just a few new things to learn.”

The process was made a little easier with a donation from Nittany Beverage, which rolled out 48 barrels of beer that were about to expire and donated it to the cause.

“Keg beer is not pasteurized, so it goes bad. All the on-premises places, like the bars, that use all the beer are closed, so it is just going bad on the warehouse floor,” says Nittany Beverage IS Manager Michael Shondeck. “My boss had seen that some distilleries are using old beer to make hand sanitizer, so we said, great, we're going to have to destroy this beer anyways, so instead of me pouring it down the drain, we said we’ll give it to them and they can use it. We are doing our part to help.”

“That donation was tremendous. It is putting use to essentially a waste product,” says Lloyd.

The beer is already fermented, so that takes a five- to seven-day process out of making hand sanitizer, he adds. “So, we will be able to take it, distil it, and bottle it within a few days.”

Lloyd says Big Spring will continue to donate to Centre County EMA, and also received an order from UPMC in Pittsburgh. They also will be making it available locally for individuals and companies who wish to purchase it.

With state liquor stores closed, Big Spring staff is busy taking orders and delivering products to grateful customers around the area. Lloyd is glad the distillery is finding a way to keep the staff together, working during these difficult times.

“It is fantastic that we are still able to be open and also be able to employ all our people, too, which is very important,” says Lloyd. “We are just unbelievably thankful that we are able to continue to operate.”

– Vincent Corso 

 

On the Front Lines 

Every day, EMS crews are on call, ready to respond in a moment's notice to keep the community safe during emergencies – even if that means putting themselves face-to-face with someone who might be sick during a pandemic.

“It definitely can be stressful,” says Centre LifeLink EMS Deputy Chief Nathan Shadle, a paramedic. He has been with the service for 15 years and has never seen anything like COVID-19. The pandemic and the potential of responding to a person with the virus is something that he is constantly thinking about on the job.

“It is in the back of your mind; it is there,” he says. “It is not something that we have had to face before. There has always been the potential of different diseases and things, but nothing this widespread and highly publicized. You can’t turn your head and not see something about COVID.”

The stress affects the whole staff, but Shadle says he is grateful that they have each other to rely on.

“Everybody has been pretty good, and if anybody has any symptoms, we are sharing that openly, communicating with each other,” he says. “So we know if someone  is coming down with symptoms, that they get tested. We are there for each other.”

As of April 7, three company members had been tested, but they had all been negative for COVID-19. Staffing is a big concern. If one or more EMS crew members becomes ill, others would need to fill in the gaps, Shadle says. 

Because of the coronavirus mitigation efforts, call volume was down for the station as of early April. With fewer people out and about, there are fewer emergencies, but Shadle says the calls they do receive are more intense than usual. When patients are tested for COVID-19, waiting to find out if the patient is positive can leave medics feeling anxious, he says.

“It is always in the back of your mind; the stress affects everybody differently,” he says. “Some guys are affected more than others, but we have been trying to communicate with each other.”

Centre LifeLink has a company assistance program and a company chaplain who is always available for staff to speak to, and Shadle says, “They have been doing really good at watching out for us.”

At the station, Shadle and the rest of the crew members are constantly cleaning and sanitizing equipment. Out on calls, they use extra precautions to make sure that everyone is safe. 

“We are using more precautions, using masks and gloves and the PPE that we have been advised by the CDC to use,” says Shadle.

Sick patients are asked to put masks on before meeting with medics and, if possible, meet the crew outside in an open area.

“We are constantly washing our hands; after every patient contact, basically anytime we have the chance when we are doing anything. [We are] using hand sanitizer when we are not able to wash our hands,” he says.

The station is appreciative of the donations of hand sanitizer; it’s something they always utilized, but it’s in much greater demand now.

Shadle, a married father of two, also has to think about COVID-19 at home. His household has felt the impact of the virus, with his wife not working because of the economic impact and his children home with school closed. Then there is the added worry, with Dad out on the front lines. 

“There are concerns there, that you could bring something home. I have a son that is 8 and a daughter that is 7, so they are home,” says Shadle.

But he developed a plan with his wife to help keep the family safe. The first thing he does when he comes home is remove his clothing and put it straight into the washing machine, and then he takes a shower.

“Just trying to take various precautions to prevent bringing anything home to them,” he says.

– Vincent Corso 

 

Coming In Out of the Cold

Housing insecurity has been an ongoing issue not only in Centre County, but throughout the country. As COVID-19 continues to emphasize the importance of sheltering in place and puts stress on the economy, local advocates for the homeless are working hard to accommodate the extra guests who don't have a place to stay.

Out of the Cold: Centre County is a nonprofit that works with 15 local churches to provide emergency shelter and meals for the State College homeless population from October through early May each year. 

The program typically sees a decrease in guests at the shelter toward the end of each season as the weather gets warmer. But because of the economic challenges brought on by pandemic, more people came to the shelter or stayed longer than they normally would have, making it more difficult for Out of the Cold to support additional guests. 

An April 1 post on the Out of the Cold Facebook page noted it was serving 34 guests, its highest total ever. But while guests are typically sheltered at participating churches, those arrangements were not feasible under social distancing guidelines. A partnership with local hotels helped fill the void.

“As all of [the guests’] normal resources and places where they spend some of their time went away, we definitely had more people coming to us and wanting to stay on,” Program Manager Sarah Potter says. 

Out of the Cold met weekly with other local shelters and the State College Borough to figure out how to best respond to the crisis. The organization received support from the borough and Centre County government to help pay for hotel stays.

The program has worked closely with three area hotels: Super 8, Nittany Budget Motel, and Residence Inn, to provide emergency shelter for guests.

Nittany Budget Motel and Super 8 are associated with Lion Country Lodging. Sales and Marketing Manager Amanda Powers says that it was “a simple process” to work with Out of the Cold because they have provided housing for homeless guests for the last few winters. 

Powers says that it took some practice at the beginning to figure out how to best accommodate the guests when the establishments were busy. Once things slowed down, the process became easier, and Lion Country Lodging wants to help however it can.

“Any sort of help that we can give to the community has really been appreciated by both sides at this point,” she says.

In early April, Out of the Cold reached out to the community on Facebook for donations. All proceeds funded guests’ extended hotel stays, first month’s rent, and security deposits, additional food costs, and more. 

Out of the Cold raised more than half of its $40,000 goal after a week and a half. Potter was grateful for the local community’s support and how it extended to people outside of the area. 

“We’ve been very, very blessed and surprised by the outpouring of contributions to our fundraising campaign,” Potter says. “We’ve always been blessed with lots of volunteers for our organization, but I feel like when we put [the post] out on Facebook, it went to a wider variety of people.”

As the end of its season approaches, Out of the Cold has been working with guests individually on plans to find permanent housing. However, if the current economic crisis continues, Potter says that Out of the Cold will consider using the funds received to help extend the season beyond its original end date of May 3. 

Potter says that, particularly during this time, it is important for the community to recognize the lack of affordable housing in the area. 

“It’s … a conversation that has always been something that we’ve struggled with in our community,” Potter says. “And now, more than ever, we have a real need to ensure that we are making plans and changing the makeup of housing in State College, and it needs to trend toward more affordable housing.” 

Out of the Cold’s day shelter at The Meetinghouse on Atherton, 318 South Atherton Street, is open from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday to offer support services, meals, and more through May 3. The program will also continue to update its wish list for donations online as needed.

For more information about Out of the Cold, visit ootc3.org. 

– Mackenzie Cullen 

 

Feeding Our Heroes

When the COVID-19 pandemic started hitting Pennsylvania, it did not take long to see members of the Centre County community stepping up to help their neighbors. People sewing face masks in their homes; businesses using 3D printers to make and donating shields for N95 respirators worn by local health-care workers; school districts offering free meals to families; and much more.

These examples were all inspiring to me, but I felt a little helpless, unsure of any way that I could make a direct impact myself. I can’t sew, I don’t own a business, and I felt a bit limited by the “stay-at-home” mandate. So when my friend and neighbor, Heddy Kervandjian, approached me with an idea to help local businesses while also supporting health-care workers and first responders, I jumped at the chance to get involved.

The idea is simple, really. We are collecting monetary donations through a GoFundMe account, and using the funds to purchase meals from local restaurants to be delivered to staff at Mount Nittany Medical Center. The goal is two-fold: Help out local restaurants, whose businesses have all taken a big hit during this crisis, by giving them a little bit of cash flow as well as some exposure; and show our frontline health-care workers some support during what is surely a stressful time for them. Heddy got the idea from her sister, Lara Sahakian, who initiated a similar campaign in Florida.

After confirming with Craig Hamilton, executive chef of Nutrition & Culinary Services, that the hospital would be receptive to meal donations, we created our GoFundMe page on April 2. We publicized it on Facebook, received a little bit of media coverage, and in four days we had collected more than $20,000. To say we have been humbled by this community’s generosity is an understatement! A lot of money has been entrusted to our care (more than $25,000 at this writing), and we are dedicated to using it to help as many restaurant and health-care workers as possible.

As soon as our fundraiser went live, local restaurants started reaching out to us, asking to be involved. We pass along their contact information as part of a long list of potential participants to Hamilton, who coordinates all of the deliveries, ensuring that they adhere to specific safety guidelines, and scheduling meals to cover different shifts and departments. This surely means a lot of extra work for him as he juggles scheduling donations from a lot of other groups as well, and we have been impressed with his responsiveness and positive attitude.

In fact, the response from everyone involved in this project has been overwhelmingly positive. We have received emotional notes of gratitude from nurses and physicians at Mount Nittany Medical Center. Restaurant owners have offered us discounts and matching donations. Other local businesses such as Designer’s Studio and J. Stephens Salon and Spa are donating a portion of their sales to our cause. Friends and strangers alike have donated amounts ranging from $5 to $1,000 to our GoFundMe account – and we appreciate every penny.

As I write this column, we are just about a week into our endeavor. But meals have already been delivered to the hospital from D.P. Dough, The Original Brothers Pizza, and Texas Roadhouse, with many more on the docket for the coming weeks. We have also been able to send meals to local EMS departments from Jersey Mike’s, Champs, and Brothers Pizza in Snow Shoe. We intend to continue this effort until the end of May or until we run out of funds, so we continue to collect donations via www.gofundme.com/f/feeding-our-heroes-2020. People may also donate by checks made out to either Heddy Kervandjian or Karen Walker and sent to P.O. Box 396, Lemont, PA 16851.

– Karen Walker

 

‘We Will Have Graduation’

While he admits the transition to distance learning hasn’t been easy, Philipsburg-Osceola School District Superintendent Gregg Paladina is adamant about one thing: “One way or another, we will have graduation,” Paladina says. “The kids deserve that.”

Since the coronavirus mandates were put in place, and Governor Tom Wolf cancelled in-school classes for the remainder of the year, P-O has been working on enrichment and review instruction through Zoom meetings and paper packets.

“We’ve been putting out packets every two weeks for kids to do in K-8,” Paladina explains. “We deliver them through the bus routes.”

Paladina says teachers have been communicating with parents through email and phone, and about 90 percent of families have participated in the packet system.

“We also are starting an optional online academy for K-12 for those who are able to connect to the internet, either at home or through our Wi-Fi,” Paladina says.

The district estimates about 30 percent of families don’t have a reliable broadband connection, because they live in rural areas outside of town. Comcast is working to help. Among other initiatives, from March 13-May 13, Comcast has opened its Wi-Fi hotspots for anyone who signs in through the xfinity.com/wifi page.   

“[Students] are always able to come to the schools to use our Wi-Fi, though I know that’s a challenge,” says Paladina. “The easiest way to do everything is distance learning, but our community just isn’t ready for that.”

Because not all students have internet at home, the online academy offered by the state Department of Education is optional for P-O students. High school students with internet access are continuing education through email and Zoom meetings at this point.

As of publication, Paladina said the plan was for a graduation ceremony to be held as originally scheduled.

“I’m sure there will have to be social-distancing and fewer people attending – probably a limited guest list – but we are planning to have a graduation ceremony one way or another,” he says.

Paladina says the district is also working to figure out a plan for prom.

“Graduation is really the most important thing, but kids look forward to prom, and it is a rite of passage,” Paladina says. “We can’t have it right now, and who knows when we can have it. I’m not opposed to having it later, but it’s kind of a wait-and-see thing right now.”

In the meantime, Paladina says teachers have been reaching out to students who are close to failure for remediation, so they can graduate on time.  

“We’re going to do the best we can and reach as many students as we can, and then the first part of next year is obviously going to be review, and we’re going to work with our teachers on that,” Paladina says.

– Teresa Mull

 

Unleashing the Power of Penn State

When Tim Simpson, a professor in Penn State’s College of Engineering, transitioned his undergraduate 3D-printing course online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he began looking for a new project for his students to work on while they were away from the lab.

In doing so, he ultimately unleashed the power of the Penn State community to provide medical equipment for the fight against the virus.

“It was going to be tough to run a hands-on lab when students weren’t allowed in the labs, so I started looking for ideas about 3D printing COVID-19 PPE (personal protective equipment), which students can help design from their homes,” he says. “My students jumped at the opportunity to focus their project on this pressing need.”

At the same time, he began to talk and share articles with others in the local 3D-printing community about potential projects.

“Everyone sort of saw the opportunity, with a shortage of PPE, and said, ‘Hey I got a 3D printer, how can I help?’ And it just grew and grew and grew, sort of a grassroots effort,” says Simpson.

Before long, the senior leadership at Penn State started to look at the PPE needs of the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

“And the grassroots effort got connected with that, and then it really took off,” Simpson says.

The initiative, called Manufacturing and Sterilization for COVID-19 (MASC), grew to include more experts from the College of Engineering, the Applied Research Lab, the Hershey Medical Center, and the Smeal College of Business.

Actuated Medical Inc., a medical device manufacturer in Bellefonte, offered to make available 9,000 square feet of manufacturing space that can be scaled up to 18,000 square feet if needed.

In State College, The Rivet at Discovery Space – a nonprofit makerspace that began serving the community in February – got in on the efforts with its 3D printers.

With the help of these local businesses, PPE and medical devices, such as replacement parts for ventilators, are being designed, printed, tested, and mass-produced for emergency and health-care services across Pennsylvania.

“It has been incredible to witness so many talented people collaborate to meet very real local, national, and global needs,” says Camille Sogin, manager of The Rivet. “We're grateful to be able to make a difference and put our machines to the task of helping people. We're doing our best to collaborate with everyone making PPE, whether that is the grassroots efforts of local people sewing masks organized by The Makery, the innovative minds at PSU creating products that can be made on a large scale, the production line of our business partner Actuated Medical, or individuals sheltering at home with a 3D printer making one piece at a time. Every single one of these people are making a difference and saving lives.”

To help produce the equipment on a larger scale, Actuated Medical’s team stood up a manufacturing line in seven days (normally standing up a production line takes many weeks), and brought in laser-machining capabilities to streamline production.   

“It takes a village to accomplish tasks to quickly meet the needs due to Covid-19. And our village includes Tim Simpson, Penn State, and The Rivet at Discovery Space,” says Maureen L. Mulvihill, president & CEO of Actuated Medical Inc. “They have been very helpful to find advanced machining resources, discuss ideas and designs, as well as getting additional assistance for materials and testing.”

The program grew to other Penn State campuses and includes up to 15 to 20 other companies making the medical equipment and distributing it to the medical workers who need it.

“And even alumni are stepping up, that have for instance worked for the FDA and are providing legal and regulatory guidance for us,” says Simpson. “So sort of the power of Penn State … the network that has depth in all these areas of expertise is just phenomenal. ... There is a lot of energy there to do something to fight this pandemic. So, to be able to channel that energy and direct it and to go all the way from an idea to a solution that gets fielded by a company to a hospital, it is just phenomenal to be a part of that.”

– Vincent Corso 

 

The Anti-Hunger Army

From his small office inside the Moshannon Valley YMCA, Executive Director Mel Curtis directs the delivery of food to thousands of children. It’s nothing new for Curtis, whose oversight of the Y’s Anti-Hunger Program has earned the Philipsburg branch national recognition. But amid the coronavirus crisis, with Curtis at the helm, the YMCA of Centre County has facilitated an unprecedented movement of resources. 

“It’s like a huge army,” Curtis says of the 200 volunteers working to feed the community. “It’s unbelievable. I put a Facebook plea out for homemade masks, because we can’t get them, and I’ve been getting them left and right. It’s mind-boggling.”

Since pandemic restrictions were mandated by the government, the Y’s staff dwindled from 300 within the association to 20. Despite the bare-bones operation, the Y has organized up to 3,400 meals a day some days, with tractor-trailers collecting food from as far away as York, Harrisburg, and Williamsport for distribution across 30 sites in Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Pine Glenn, Penns Valley, Osceola, State College, and elsewhere.

The Y army has been delivering daily lunches, weekend snacks, emergency weekend food boxes for families, soup drive-thrus, and home deliveries for the elderly and veterans who don’t have a way to get to a food site.

“It’s less about the Y and more about how much the community has stepped up and chosen to care for their neighbors,” says Scott Mitchell, president and CEO of the YMCA of Centre County. “The Y is the vehicle by which we’re able to use the support from the community. Mel orchestrates the whole thing – he’s got more energy than most of us combined – and the volunteer support has been incredible.”

Local businesses, of which about 80 percent are new partners with the Y, have donated food, vehicles, gas cards, money, and manpower to help. The list is so big that Curtis updates it daily on social media.

“We’ve got some heavy-hitters out of Centre County who have stepped up,” Curtis says.

Then there are the individuals who volunteer every day to load and unload trucks, drive food to drop-off locations, hand out soup, run food to cars, and make deliveries. Curtis says a group of veterans from the American Legion, calling themselves the “437 Militia,” has been particularly pro-active.

“I get a phone call every day from them, and they say, ‘We’re waiting for what you need us to do,’” says Curtis.

“In a time that’s so challenging and difficult, it’s really been amazing to watch the generosity and how caring people are during these moments,” says Mitchell. “There’s kind of a silver lining in this whole thing.

“Another thing that has been incredible for us: We’ve had many, many members choose to continue to pay their memberships through this time as a way to support us and our efforts to offer food security to the families, and that’s been very moving and motivating to us. Without the community funding, we wouldn’t have the ability to continue to do this.”

Curtis says the Y is going to continue to feed as many people as it can for as long as possible.

“That’s what the Y is all about,” says Curtis. “We’re here to take care of the community.”

– Teresa Mull

 

‘Things Are Changing So Rapidly’

So much new information comes out every day about COVID-19 that it can be hard for anyone to keep up. For most, it is confusing and annoying because we all want to be safe and aware. 

For doctors and other medical professionals, staying up to date is a matter of life and death; for them, their patients, and for the community as a whole.

Getting that information into the skilled hands of doctors, nurses, and medical technicians is one of the biggest challenges for Geisinger Health System, says Geisinger's Centre County community medicine director, Dr. Amit Mehta.

“What we have learned in the last four weeks is way different than what we learned two months ago. And what we have learned in the last two weeks is way different than where we were three weeks ago,” says Mehta. “So, we are learning on a daily basis, on an hourly basis. Things are changing so rapidly; things I am telling you now might be different in a day.”

From the number of cases, the availability and types of testing, to information coming in from around the state, country, and world, along with internal guidelines, the response to COVID-19 continues to evolve.

“There is a lot to learn, a lot to update. And as you can imagine, with a health-care system with more than 30,000 employees, with more than 1,600 physicians and 800 advanced practitioners, there is a lot that needs to be put into place so that everybody is on the same page,” says Mehta. “And that is a monumental task, and it is important that you do this so that every patient will get the direct message, which is evidence-based treatment.

“What to do in isolation, what to do in quarantine, things like that. What are the treatment options available and how can you prevent the spread of infection? That is important, because me and you alone, physicians alone, cannot prevent the spread of this; we have to do this all together. It is a community effort and if everybody plays their role, we will get through this.”

From daily updates to town hall-style meetings on Skype that keep the whole team up to date, the admin team is working to keep everyone informed.

“I have never seen a team work so closely together in my lifetime as a physician, as I am seeing it now,” says Mehta. “What I am seeing is an amazing effort from our leadership in Geisinger to educate the operations team, educate the front desk, educate the nurses, the physicians.”

A big change for doctors has been seeing patients over tele-video meetings instead of bringing them in and potentially exposing them to the virus. Mehta says this is something that will continue after the pandemic subsides.

Doctors and other medical professionals are going through the same emotional and physiological experience as the rest of the community in isolation, but are also faced with putting themselves in front of patients who are sick.

But they continue to serve.

“Nobody is trying to hide away or run away from responsibilities,” Mehta says. “We are all really trying to help the communities that we actually live in. … Everybody is ready to jump in and do what is needed.”

Doctors and nurses also face the fact that they may be redeployed to another part of the region that needs more support. 

“Whether COVID-19 is there or not, patients' health needs are still there, and we have to provide for the health-care needs,” says Mehta. 

The broader community has been extremely supportive of medical professionals, including the donation of masks and meals, he says. And patients are turning the tables during phone and video appointments, asking doctors how they are doing.

“This is really helpful psychologically to everyone who works in the health-care system, because it shows the support that the community feels for people in my fields,” says Mehta. “The support, I can’t even put into words. I just want to say thank you from the whole medical community for everything they are doing to help us.”

Mehta himself has treated one patient who tested positive for COVID-19, who showed some early symptoms. All precautions were taken by the medical team and the patient is on the road to recovery. 

“I feel good that the patient is feeling better, but I do not think we are out of it; we are going to see a lot more of this,” says Mehta.

There have been employees in the Geisinger system who have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We might be health-care providers, but we are also human and we are exposed to all this infection,” he says.

It is a concern that is all too real for medical professionals. What if they get sick? What if they bring something home to their families? Some doctors who are working in hospitals with COVID-19 patients choose to stay in hotels away from their families.

“I am definitely concerned that I might expose my family, my children, my wife, to this infection,” Mehta says. 

If he were to get sick, quarantining himself would be the top priority. But he continues to put himself in harm's way to help patients, just like so many in the medical field.

“It is the oath we take as physicians, and we have to abide by it and stick by it,” Mehta says. “The most comfort we feel as physicians is when we are treating patients. It is that happiness and comfort that comes when you are helping people feel better and helping people in their time of need. Whether it is a pandemic or it is any other situation where health-care workers are needed, I don’t think any health-care worker would shy away from their duties.”

– Vincent Corso 

 

Mindful Resilience

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a stressful situation for just about everyone, but perhaps none are more affected than those on the front lines – the health-care workers and first responders who are putting themselves in harm’s way and risking exposure as they work to save the lives of those afflicted with the deadly, contagious virus. Under pressure and facing intense life-and-death situations, these workers may be experiencing symptoms of trauma similar to what military veterans encounter in combat situations.

Wellness in Motion yoga studio has been offering “mindful resilience” classes at no charge to veterans for the past six months, and now the studio is expanding that free access to include first responders and health-care workers.

“The whole program is basically built on building resilience in a trauma-informed way,” explains instructor Jessica Minelli. “We’re giving people tools to be able to use outside of the yoga situation.”

Those tools come in the form of the five pillars of the mindful resilience program: gratitude, mindful movement, meditation, breath work, and guided rest. All five tools are incorporated into each one-hour class, which Minelli says is taught at a beginner yoga level to make it accessible to anyone.

“We teach people how to use all of these tools, so they can use them later on in their life, or later on in the day, or anytime they find themselves in a stressful situation,” she explains.

“The way we thought it was so relatable to the world right now is that we are all kind of in this uncharted territory and we’re carrying around stress from all of that. … Stress causes us to be in that ‘flight or fight’ kind of mode, to the point where sometimes we are not in connection with our own breath or even with our own feelings and our own thoughts,” she says. “[The practice] allows us to turn our attention inward, and to focus on what we can control.”

For example, she explains, “Meditation helps calm the mind, which helps calm the central nervous system. … So, I can learn to deepen my breath, and I can sit there with that for a little bit and allow that to bring a sense of calm into my body. And then maybe I can take a step forward from there.”

While traditionally the program is taught in the State College studio at 2541 East College Avenue, the classes have gone online via the Zoom app due to COVID-19 restrictions. The shift to virtual classes has been challenging in some respects, she says, but the technology has also allowed the program to reach participants from outside of the State College area, including a nurse from Hawaii and a police officer from New York City. The Zoom app also allows for an important social connection.

“We’re all missing that contact with the outside world and with our friends, classmates, students. So when we do this virtually, there is the ability for other people to see each other on the screen and sometimes there is some time before or after class for people to at least say hello. It’s giving us the opportunity to connect, even though it might be different.”

Minelli invites people to see demonstrations of mindful resilience practices by visiting the Veterans Yoga Project website, veteransyogaproject.org. Minelli’s classes are offered every Wednesday at noon and one Sunday evening per month. Interested participants can sign up at wellnessinmotion.com. First responders can use the code “1FIRSTRESPONDERS” when checking out to avoid paying the regular fee for the class.

– Karen Walker

 

Paying It Forward, In 3D

During what is certainly a scary time of uncertainty for many small businesses, Victor DeDonato feels blessed. He’s fortunate, he says, because his store, The UPS Store at Colonnade Way in State College, is considered an essential business, which means it remained open during Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 restrictions, allowing him to keep people gainfully employed.

When it comes to good fortune, DeDonato and The UPS Store have always looked for ways to pay it forward, he says, so when a friend, Bridget Flickinger, an emergency room physician at Mount Nittany Medical Center, approached him with a need, he quickly figured out how his business could help.

Flickinger had seen an article about State College native Jeremy Filko, who had come up with a design for a plastic shield to protect N95 face masks that could be created using a 3D printer. The shields are made of hard, colored plastic and fit over an N95 mask to cover the wearer’s nose and mouth.

“The N95 respirator masks are supposed to be disposable. But with the shortage, they have been having to reuse them,” DeDonato says. “So Bridget asked me if we could do these shields, and at the time I had no idea about them. … I looked into it, and found out I could download and print a file from [Filko’s] website” collectiveshield.org.

So DeDonato and his crew got to work, printing out about 20 shields for the Mount Nittany ER department. Meanwhile, he received another request, this time from the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County. The CBICC was reaching out on behalf of the Mount Nittany Health Foundation, which was looking for local companies that could manufacture N95 respirators and other protective equipment for Mount Nittany Health employees beyond the ER department. DeDonato signed on to provide 50 more mask shields.

The process of 3D printing the shields takes several days, DeDonato says, and the materials required are expensive.

“We can build about 25 at a time,” he explains. “It takes over a day to print, and then we have to wash them, and then process them, break them apart, and get all of the support material off of them.”

All in all, DeDonato says, The UPS Store is donating $2,000 worth of product to the hospital.

“We’re just trying to help out. We’ve done that for as long as we’ve been in business – helping with nonprofits, doing charity runs and book drives and that kind of thing. We’re just trying to do the right thing.”

Of course, supplying 3D printed protective medical equipment is just one aspect of what defines The UPS Store as a “life-sustaining” business, according to Pennsylvania’s guidelines during the COVID-19 crisis. The business has continued to offer essential services such as shipping, printing, and notary services.

The store has been practicing stringent safety precautions, DeDonato says, including providing gloves and masks for employees; creating a buffer between customers and staff by placing boxes in front of the counters and tape on the floors; displaying signage asking employees to follow CDC social distancing guidelines – remaining 6 feet apart and not allowing more than 10 customers on-site at a time; and disinfecting touch points frequently throughout the day.

– Karen Walker

 

An Increase in Need – and Donations

In times as uncertain as these, with confusion and sorrow at the forefront of many people’s minds, one thing has remained constant: the helping hands that extend from this tight-knit community. Places that have always been known for their collective support, like the State College Food Bank, have continued to offer a great deal of help to those who have been affected by such an unprecedented experience.

“We have seen an increase in need,” says Allayn Beck, executive director of the State College Food Bank. “We are receiving more referrals from our referring agencies, and we are having more people walk in to receive service who have never been here before.”

As more people find themselves in need of the food bank’s services, donations in State College have actually been increasing, Beck notes.

“It’s wonderful to see the support our community shares with us. We are very fortunate,” she says.

The State College Food Bank, while utilizing donations, also relies on the help of volunteers to operate successfully. Given the current situation surrounding the outbreak of COVID-19, the food bank has “decreased the number of volunteers we need to operate,” Beck says. “Thankfully, we haven’t needed to recruit new people. Our current volunteer base is covering our needs.”

While some aspects of operation have remained similar to times in the past, with donations and volunteers at the forefront, the process of how the public is getting food has inevitably changed.

As social distancing has become the new norm within society, the State College Food Bank has new methods of food distribution. Before the pandemic, people would go to the food bank on South Atherton Street and “shop for food – much like a grocery store,” Beck says.

To ensure the safety of everyone involved, the food is now pre-packaged and brought to clients while they stay in their vehicles, Beck says.

“We are also working to support our partner agencies at this time as best we can,” Beck says in reference to distributing food to those in need.

Times like these can cause everyone to feel alone, but togetherness does not have to seem out of reach. With communal support being offered at places like the State College Food Bank, it’s right around the corner for anyone who needs it.

Located at 1321 South Atherton, the food bank operates on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Client distribution hours are from 1-4:30 p.m. on Mondays, and 1-3:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays. The public can drop off donations from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on those days, or by appointment. More information can be found at scfoodbank.org.

– Jordan Holsopple

 

Mask-Makers Unite 

Rachael Huxford was feeling helpless as the impact from the coronavirus was changing the world all around her. But she remembered to “look for the helpers,” and she stumbled upon several groups across the country making face masks for not just themselves and their loved ones, but also for hospitals and nursing homes. She, however, didn’t find one in Centre County.

“That’s when I knew I had found my way to become a helper,” says Huxford. Inspired, Huxford got to work on social media and at her sewing machine, and after connecting with a few other local crafters, she created a Facebook page called State College Mask Makers, with a goal to connect people who needed masks to those who can make them.

The site grew to more than 225 members by mid-April, with more than 1,500 requests for masks. The group is focused and organized, with sewers and even non-sewers who make runs twice a week to deliver materials, pick up masks, and exchange other supplies between households. 

“This means anyone who wants to participate can get materials delivered right to their doorstep,” says Huxford. “We are also partnered with a few members who have been 3D printing face shields for donation, and even patterns for our cutters to use! We’re also looking into knitting and crocheting options for people to make ‘ear-savers,’ which nurses can attach the elastic of their mask to in order to reduce the stress on their ears.”

The group has received help from the community, which has donated supplies, food, and many messages of support. All that support helps keep those hands moving.

In mid-April, another Facebook group called Happy Valley Moms Making Masks, which got started in late March, merged with the State College Mask Makers team to combine efforts. 

“It means so much for me to be able to do this. To find a tangible way to help is definitely a saving grace for my mental health during this crisis, when it is so easy to feel helpless and lost,” says Huxford. “It has not only given my idle hands purpose, but also given me a way to feel connected to our community during quarantine. The outpouring of support I’ve received from so many to help build and continue to run this group has never made me prouder to live here.”

Similarly, Amy Frank, owner of The Makery in State College, realized that her business was well set up to help make masks for people who need them.

“We realized we can be of service, because we can help people understand how to make a mask … that is what we do, we teach people to sew,” says Frank. “The trick was people were having a hard time finding supplies because everywhere is closed.”

Well, The Makery had supplies, so Frank and her family got to work. They, too, started a Facebook group and in late March as the world was changing, they started making kits with a pattern and enough material to make 10 face masks each.

The next day Frank drove around the county, dropping off kits on porches to people who wanted to put their sewing skill to work.

“The neat part of the story was that a lot of the people who wanted to help were kids who we taught to sew,” says Frank. “Ten-, 11-, and 12-year-old kids who had taken our classes. … So it was a really neat opportunity for these children to take the skill they learned to do good in the community.”

The Facebook group grew and so did the requests for masks, mostly from health-care workers, such as at nursing homes and pharmacies.

“Slowly over the next week, the research came out that fabric masks are very helpful even to extend the life of N95 or level-one surgical masks,” Frank says, “and our membership started to grow.”

By mid-April, the Facebook Makery Mask Makers included almost 500 people sewing for the group; they have sent more than 1,400 masks to health-care professionals, with a waitlist more than 2,000 masks deep keeping those sewers busy.

The Facebook page is filled with fun stories of people making masks, and grateful messages from people who received them.

“The group has sewers who are in their 80s and sewers who are 8, it is so neat … the Facebook group has a  lot of camaraderie; we have community members posting who are thankful for the masks, we have people posting funny stories about their back hurting from sewing, and people who are making masks [while] watching Tiger King,” says Frank. “It is interesting because many of them have commented that we don’t know each other in real life, but man has it become this pretty tight-knit, galvanized group of volunteers.”

Frank says that when this is all over, she hopes to get the group together at The Makery to meet each other. But she feels that the real kudos should be given to the people who need the masks and are working to keep this community safe. 

“We are so happy just to have an opportunity to help in some small way,” says Frank. “The heroes of this story are the health-care professionals in Centre County. We are just happy to sew a little bit to help them as they help our community.”

– Vincent Corso 

 

‘A Game-Changer’

As many downtown businesses try to stay afloat, D.P Dough has made its most drastic changes in the 30 years since it opened in State College. From staffing to delivery mode, the calzone hotspot has been rolling with the punches. 

D.P. Dough offers four different modes of delivery: DoorDash, GrubHub, Uber Eats, and through its own website, dpdough.com. Like all other restaurants across Pennsylvania, D.P. Dough has stacked its chairs and eliminated dine-in options amidst COVID-19. 

All employees are wearing gloves, disinfecting surfaces, and meeting other health-related requirements to stay open. 

“We typically call and drop at your door [for delivery], so there is no contact, and if you pick up we will bring it to your car,” says owner and manager Peter Gardella.

The drop-off process is the same for delivery-service drivers who come to pick up food for customers through an app; the food is brought out to drivers in order to minimize traffic in the restaurant. 

D.P Dough, like a lot of other local businesses, has taken a hit to sales since the closure of in-person classes at Penn State in mid-March, as well as the state’s elimination of dine-in and its stay-at-home order. In March, the business took nearly a 50 percent cut to sales; that was estimated to rise to 70 percent by the end of April, which is usually one of the three best-performing months for the eatery. 

Gardella’s main priorities moving forward are to keep his crew of 15 local employees working and busy, as well as covering basic food and overhead costs. 

Because the primary business of D.P Dough relies on the influx of 50,000 Penn State students, August can’t come soon enough, he says. 

“We are riding a wave; instead of summer starting May 15, it started March 15. … Even if all restrictions lift on May 1, the orders will still be at the same volume, because students still won’t be here,” explains Gardella. 

D.P Dough is in the same boat as many college-town businesses across America. Nearly 50 percent of D.P. Dough’s revenue relies on a shoulder-to-shoulder packed dining room that usually consists of college students. 

Gardella, in the meantime, is trying to reach out to other local businesses to garner orders, including handing out fliers to garages and warehouses that are still open and conducting business. 

“When you take 50,000 out of your doorstep, it’s a game-changer,” explains Gardella, who says he remains optimistic about the future. 

Elizabeth Molek

 

 

Comments
Disclaimer: Copyright © 2020 StateCollege.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.