Businesses, nonprofits and individuals throughout the Miami Valley pulled together to help the community during quarantine
As the COVID-19 virus became a global pandemic, the Miami Valley did what it always does—it pulled together to help one another. Once the state of Ohio shelter-in-place order became effective on March 23, everything changed. From family gatherings to working in offices to shopping, people had to adjust to a “new normal.”
What started as a few weeks of staying at home stretched to several months. In Dayton, the two major health care systems—Premier Health and Kettering Health Network—moved quickly to respond to the crisis.
On March 17, Premier Health, in collaboration with the University of Dayton, set up the first local COVID-19 collection site. Working with CompuNet Clinical Laboratories, Premier began offering local testing for the virus. The drive-thru center at UD Arena was initially set up as a testing site only for people who had physician orders with them. But beginning on May 4, the site was open to local residents to drive through and receive a blood test to determine if there had been a past infection.
“Some evidence suggests that plasma transfusions can help patients develop their own antibodies,” says Renee Roberts, a Premier spokesperson. “We offered an affordable option for anyone who wanted to get tested.”
Premier also partnered with the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI), Fastlane and Industry Products Company (IPC) in Piqua to address the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the hospital system.
“I was asked to help solve the PPE issue,” says Lainie Dean, system vice president of strategy and business development at Premier Health. “It started out to be about masks, but our gown supply was being diverted to other hot spots across the country and it was dwindling.”
Dean connected with UDRI and, along with engineers from Fastlane, they worked to develop gowns made from a material called “scrim,” used to manufacture filters for cars. IPC, a company that would have normally been shut down during this time, was able to produce about 95,000 “scrim” gowns to meet the need.
John Weimer, the network vice president of emergency trauma and the Kettering Health Network Operations Command Center, was working overtime to respond to the crisis.
“We did everything from monitoring our supply lines and procuring PPE to balancing patients throughout the system,” Weimer says.
The command center initially became operational right before the mass shooting in the Oregon District last year. Once COVID-19 cases were on the rise, Weimer says KHN saw it as a community-wide issue and talked regularly with other hospital system executives about the best way to handle the crisis.
“I was so proud of our community leaders for stepping away from their brands and doing all they could for the community,” Weimer says. “This pandemic has really shown what our health care workers go through every day.”
Food donations poured in to feed these health care workers, but the third shift was often left out. Reverend Renard Allen, pastor at St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church in Dayton, saw his church as “in the heart of the city with a heart for the city.”
He rallied his congregation for extra donations and connected with All Things Savory Catering in Dayton to feed more than 2,500 third shift workers at 10 hospitals across the area. He intends to continue the program as long as donations continue, reaching out to feed people at funeral homes and homeless shelters as well.
Deemed “essential,” health care and grocery story workers still had to report, even after schools and daycare centers were shuttered.
Melissa Hubley, the center director at KinderCare on Rahn Road in Centerville, was notified that her center was chosen as a “pandemic center” by the state and as such, remained open.
“We cared for about 94 children during that time,” Hubley says. “Our staff had to learn new ways to work and help the children adjust to the ‘new normal.’”
And even though the world was seemingly closed for several months, people were still marking special occasions in their own special way. Over in Kettering, Dawn Wyatt first posted an invitation for people to join a “birthday parade,” to help her daughter celebrate her sweet 16 birthday at the beginning of April.
“Everyone loved this idea and within a week, there were more than 50 requests for birthday parades,” Wyatt says. “We all kind of take birthdays and parties for granted. But now, we really realize how special they are.”
In Brookville, Jessica Wells spotted a Facebook group in Canada that was created to celebrate Easter with social distancing in place.
“Our kids were missing their school and their friends,” Wells says. “We created eggs to decorate our window and I posted the photos on Facebook. It really caught on.”
Lori Combs created a Brookville Easter Egg Hunt group on Facebook and it spread quickly, inspiring others to decorate their own houses and bring the community together. The page continues today and encourages decorating for holidays year-round.
Though grocery stores remained opened during the statewide shut down, food pantries and other charitable organizations that normally delivered food to low-income residents in Dayton had to cease operations.
Kris Horlacher, the founder of Shoes 4 the Shoeless, has been involved with local schools for years, giving new shoes and socks to kids in need. When she saw that schools would most likely be closing, the first thing she thought was, “These kids are going to go hungry.”
“I reached out to my contacts at Northridge, Franklin and Dayton schools,” Horlacher says. “I thought I could feed 50 kids for three weeks.”
Horlacher pulled together local churches—Southbrook in Washington Township, Living Word in Vandalia and First Baptist in Kettering—and put out a request on Facebook. The response was extraordinary and Horlacher’s newly christened Food 4 The People began taking meals to more than just school children.
“There were senior citizens with no way to get food and other families with no transportation,” Horlacher says. “Their one safety net is food pantries, but they were closed. Their supply line broke.”
By the time Horlacher ended her program once everything opened and the stay-at-home order was lifted, her volunteers had ended up feeding 3,000 local people who otherwise would have no access to food.
“The media makes you think there is no hope for humanity,” Horlacher says. “But it’s not true. The American spirit is a live and we are strong, brave, kind and selfless. We will get through this together.”