Wilton's Trevor Martines (left) and Alex Cocoros deliver meals to The Greens at Cannondale, where Alex has two grandmothers.

Lynn Martines has lived in Wilton since 1999. You may know her as a substitute teacher in multiple Wilton schools or from her numerous volunteer roles and active fundraising for local charities, like Animals in Distress.

When the COVID-19 crisis began, Martines took on another new role, as the leader of the Warriors’ Frontline Appreciation group. “The idea came from a conversation with a friend,” Martines explained. “I just sprang into action.”

The Concept

The concept was to raise money in order to purchase meals for nurses, doctors, technicians, and support staff working on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19.

A second key element of the concept was to support local restaurants, with 100% of all donations going directly to buy the meals from local restaurants. And that meant “real meals” to Martines. “We really want to take care of these people,” she said.

>With an 18-year-old son who is an EMT and an elderly mother with recent health issues, Martines feels an acute concern about COVID-19 and describes healthcare workers and first responders as “our local heroes”.

Martines decided to prioritize her efforts at Norwalk, Danbury, Stamford, and Bridgeport hospital emergency rooms and ICUs, as well as Wilton’s police and fire departments and the Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

Rapid Changes

Martines recalled how rapidly the situation has evolved since the Frontline Appreciation campaign officially kicked off on March 23.

“In the beginning, I reached out to the hospitals and there was no process in place, it was just whoever you happened to get on the phone. The hospitals quickly realized they needed coordinators” to facilitate the response to offers of meal deliveries. Today, those coordinators are in place, creating order and efficiency, and even communicating to Martines what other types of needs they may have.

Another change came when meals needed to be packaged as single portions rather than catering trays. When that happened, Martines saw an opportunity to make the meals even more special, by having the paper bags that contained each meal decorated by Wilton residents with handwritten messages and designs. “We got them from young people, older people, [all types of] people, with beautiful, inspiring messages,” she said effusively.

Matt Francia of Wilton Deli has been a particularly helpful partner. “He’s been just great!” Martines said, citing Francia’s response to a sudden need for bags, using the deli’s space to assemble meals, and “constant support”.

Hundreds of bags were decorated by Wilton residents. Here, just a sampling are shown ready for assembly at Wilton Deli

In addition to Wilton Deli, Martines has purchased meals from Pinocchio’s, Village Market, Marly’s, and Molly’s Deli, and has upcoming plans for Aranci 67, Scoops and Uncle Leo’s. She is thankful to all of them and to their workers who prepared and packaged the meals.

To date, over 250 donors have generated over $15,000 to enable the group to purchase nearly 1,000 meals from Wilton and nearby restaurants.

Since last Thursday’s delivery of 60 lunches and 60 dinners to Bridgeport Hospital, Martines has had no time to rest. More meals were delivered Friday to Wilton Fire Department, and the next few days will include Wilton Meadows and Sunrise of Wilton.

On May 5, a Cinco de Mayo dinner is in the works for 60 ER and ICU staff members at Stamford Hospital, catered by Bartaco of Stamford. Martines points out it is not always feasible to use Wilton restaurants when delivering to more distant locations. Still, she feels good about spreading some of the support to restaurants in nearby communities.

A Big Push For Nurses’ Week

Martines is particularly excited about an idea brought to her by Wilton’s Eva Beshlian to show appreciation specifically to nurses. National Nurses Week is celebrated annually beginning on May 6, the birthday of Florence Nightingale.

Martines and Beshlian set a goal to assemble 750 “personal care gift bags” for nurses of COVID-19 patients at Norwalk and Stamford hospitals. However, they are finding it a major challenge to obtain such a large volume of skincare, coffee, or stress-relief items that nurses would enjoy.  “Corporate sponsors like Beiersdorf are hard [to get] because we aren’t an official [charity]. We really need the community help,” she emphasized.

Though she would still love to find connections at companies that could contribute these small luxuries, Martines has created an Amazon gift registry where individuals can either purchase selected items or donate gift cards in any amount. The deadline to order is May 3, but the sooner the better, given the risk of shipping delays. (Please note, buyers should select to have items delivered directly to Lynn Martines.)

Hoping to repeat the success of the personalized meal bags, Martines and Beshlian are also looking for volunteers to decorate and write messages on the nurses’ gift bags. Volunteers may email Martines directly.

Giving and Getting

While giving to others, Martines appreciates what this experience has given her in return. “It’s been a bonding experience for my 17-year-old son and me. He’s been all-in on this with me,” she said, describing her son’s efforts to help with important tasks as well as to recruit his friends to assist (as seen in the main photo at top).

Perhaps even more meaningful, Martines has been left with vivid memories of the workers she has seen during the deliveries. Most striking, she says, are the expressive eyes of the people who receive the food. “Of course, everyone is wearing a mask, so you can’t really see their face. But you see their eyes. Their eyes are smiling. They are so grateful,” she said with elation, and soberly added, “and then they go back in that building, and do their job.”

The Future

Martines plans on keeping the campaign going as long as the means–and the need–exist.  Supporting these front line workers is something she believes will have to continue for some time after the pandemic is over, given the PTSD-like effects many of them could experience. “I want to continue as long as the money is there,” she said.

Martines is optimistic that the strong sense of community she sees right now will also last. “I believe we are seeing the best of Wilton.”

Join the Warriors’ Frontline Appreciation group on Facebook. Venmo your donation to @Lynn-Martines (code 2269 to confirm).

One reply on “Showing Appreciation to Frontline Heroes, the Wilton Warrior Way”

  1. A hearty THANK YOU for getting this massive effort started. Also, thanks to your family members and the volunteers and of course, the local restaurants. Lastly, THANK YOU to the many benefactors for your support – well done!

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