There’s no organization that better represents what Wilton has become during the coronavirus pandemic than Warrior Helpers, a grassroots group of Wilton residents who are working together to identify the many needs in the community during a time of crisis and match them with people who have stepped up to volunteer and help others.
Started by a group of about 10 people toward the end of March, Warrior Helpers is meant to be a bureaucracy-free clearinghouse that can move fast, getting personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks and sterile caps made by people volunteering to sew into the hands of healthcare heroes on the frontlines who desperately need supplies; or making sure seniors in town have masks and aren’t alone without access to groceries.
GOOD Morning Wilton editor Heather Borden Herve spoke with three of the organizers in a Zoom video interview. Patty Tomasetti, Tamara Conway, and John Macken have been instrumental in getting the website up and running, connecting volunteers with tasks, and getting things done.
“Warrior Helpers came about so that we could really just bring people in town together, by using a portal, a website to connect people, figure out who needed what, what facilities, what hospitals, what nursing homes, and connect people together to help them,” Tomasetti explained.
One of the largest efforts has been to marshall all the people who have been making masks (or who want to learn how to make masks) and getting what they make to the healthcare workers who need them.
“We noticed that there were so many residents in town that were doing such great work making masks and other PPE, but they didn’t necessarily know who needed them and how many those places needed or those people needed. The portal idea was really to say, ‘Okay, we’ve got all these people making products; let’s get it to the people that need it, and do that as efficiently as we can,” Macken adds.
The three are quick to make sure that others get credit–most especially all of the volunteers from all over Wilton who have eagerly jumped in to stitch masks, make face shields, 3-D print mask ear guards, and more. They name Bill Lalor, Michelle Haggerty, Peter Wrampe, and Kim Healy as others who have been very involved.
In addition to a website, the group has a Facebook page where people can post requests or offer assistance.
“The Facebook group went almost mini-viral, according to Wilton standards. We had over 300 members in the first 24 hours and we’re now at 505 members. People do a real-time exchange of anything from supplies and help. Some people need fabric, some people have fabric. They exchange buttons, down to the minuscule items that they need for sewing and creating masks or caps and shields,” Conway explains. “It’s become a real-time exchange of goods and manpower and then all the way up to larger projects.”
And true to Wilton volunteer spirit, people are eager to help.
“It’s incredible to me that I can make a posting for large or small work efforts, and within literally 10 minutes, I’ve got a dozen people volunteering to help. It’s just an incredible outpouring of community support and gathering together,” Conway adds.
In fact, in just over the 20 days since it formed, Warrior Helpers gained more than 500 members; produced over 1,400 masks, 800 face shields, 300 caps, and 200 ear savers; and facilitated over 1,300 calls to Wilton seniors.
The group has been able to bring PPE to hospitals all over Fairfield County, from Norwalk Hospital to Danbury Hospital, to Stamford, Bridgeport, Greenwich and beyond. They’ve also helped out Wilton Meadows, Wilton Commons, Ogdon House, Brookdale Senior Living, and Village Market, among other locations in town, as well as Wilton Social Services, and senior citizens all over town.
The Wilton army of volunteers has mobilized, from professional stitchers to novices, making hundreds of pieces. They’ve utilized fabric from everywhere, whether it was donated by the Wilton location of the national chain Calico Corners, or dug up from remnants in a sewing basket, or repurposed from other linens or clothing items.
As soon as they’re finished, volunteers bring the items to Tomasetti, who helps get them distributed.
“They just come in–we get the masks, we get the caps, we get the ear savers; we sort them, we figure out who needs what, and out it goes,” she says.
Warrior Helpers also have put their ability to network to work perfectly, connecting the various professionals who live in town.
“There’s a fantastic teacher at the high school who commandeered most of the 3-D printers from the schools and has been using a design of a mask which is close to an N95, and they’ve been printing those masks and getting them to the local hospitals,” says Conway. But the masks needed filter material, and Conway knew of another Wilton parent who has a manufacturing company that makes–you guessed it–filter material. “We connected those people and I think that’s running on its own now,” she says.
The impact the group is having is very moving.
“One of the great things for me that I get to see is the smiles on seniors’ faces when we deliver a mask to them, and they didn’t have a mask. It’s amazing how grateful they are at the outpouring of support from people making masks,” says Macken.
Warrior Helpers has made connecting to seniors a priority, knowing how isolating the stay at home mandates have been and how frightening the virus is for a demographic that is so particularly vulnerable.
“We have 10 people that immediately stepped up to say that they would go through a list of 2,700 private residents, seniors in town. It’s a daunting task for sure, but those 10 people stepped up. It’s just a check in to say, ‘How are you doing? We want to provide you a mask if you don’t have one.’ In a lot of cases it’s really just checking in to see how they’re doing and if there’s anything they need,” Macken described.
Another example of the breadth of service that the group is offering is translation. “That was another endeavor where we just put up a posting and got an overwhelming response of multi-lingual people in Wilton who are willing to provide their translation services,” Conway said.
The three said the group has an ongoing need for masks and caps, that hospital workers who wear them every day just need more. The need is exponential because not only are patient-facing healthcare providers in constant need for PPE, but other hospital employees–custodians, food service, administrative, etc.–need to be equipped now as well.
Warrior Helpers is also making sure that Wilton healthcare workers get some TLC. At the suggestion of a Wilton resident who is a nurse, they put together care packages for a group in town.
“She collected a list of names of nurses and healthcare workers in Wilton and we helped her facilitate personal care items and masks and caps for each of those bags. And then she and her daughter (who’s also a nurse) delivered them. It was a lovely gesture and so many people were grateful for that,” Conway said, adding, “And I know behind the scenes that there is a larger effort going on for nurse appreciation week as well. So that’s to come.”
For people who want to help the effort financially, Warrior Helpers isn’t accepting monetary donations. Conway suggests contributing to either the Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps or the effort that Wilton resident Lynn Martines is running called Warriors’ Frontline Appreciation, which supports both healthcare workers and local restaurants by raising money to purchase meals for healthcare workers.
All three agree that the community effort and participation is so uplifting.
“We’re very, very, very thankful for everything that everyone is doing,” Tomasetti said, which was echoed by Macken: “It’s a really impressive community, I couldn’t be more happy to be a part of this community.”