Monroe’s Healthy Helpers provide for their neighbors in times of crisis

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MONROE, Conn. — School closings from coronavirus will leave some working parents scrambling to find someone to watch their kids during the day.

Some elderly residents, who are in a more vulnerable group to COVID-19, may be hesitant to leave their homes to buy food and supplies for fear they may catch it.

That’s where Monroe’s Healthy Helpers come in. The Facebook page started by Stepney Elementary School teacher, Jennifer Heitzke, connects its members with those volunteering to babysit, run errands and prepare and drop off hot meals.

“One of the people who joined the group did a ‘#it takes a village,’” Heitzke said Friday. “I really think we need to come together at times like this. Even though we’re supposed to socially distance ourselves, now more than ever it’s important for us to not socially isolate from each other. We should offer and seek out help to get through this.”

Heitzke started the Monroe Healthy Helpers Facebook page on Thursday night, and it quickly grew from 12 to 411 members by Friday. All one has to do to stay in the group is to be respectful to each other.

The idea for the page stems from Heitzke’s memories of major storms like hurricanes Sandy and Irene, which knocked out power to townspeople for weeks at a time.

“As they got power, people would post on Facebook, ‘come over and take a shower.’ ‘If you need a generator, I have a generator,’” she recalled. “I feel everybody did their best to help each other.”

Now Heitzke hopes the Monroe’s Healthy Helpers Facebook page can give people a central meeting place online.

Helping hands

The Monroe Healthy Helpers Facebook page is already buzzing with activity.

“If the school closures have you concerned about your child not being able to eat breakfast or lunch, let me know,” Shawna Domenichelli posted on Friday. “I will do what I can to help. A box of cereal, gallon of milk, bread, pb/j – just let me know. No judgement. #ittakesavillage.”

“That is so beautiful,” Leslie Marchese commented. “I was thinking about that this morning. Please let me know if I can help financially or otherwise.”

“Let me know if you need assistance with anything just PM me,” Tom Moore commented.

In another post, Adrienne Stepkoski asked if anyone knew the Monroe Senior Center director or Fairway Acres residents, because she wanted to gather items elderly residents may need to stay healthy and safe.

“If anyone is ill and can’t cook I’m happy to drop off some homemade soup/crackers etc..” Darlene Gosnell wrote in another post.

Beth Forger wrote, “I’m an early childhood special education teacher… happy to help with childcare ( preferably in my home) if you need to work. I will also share activities and ideas to support all of your little ones while they are home as I am sure the days will start to feel mighty long.”

Other posts had offers to babysit, pick up prescriptions and do some grocery shopping. Heitzke shared a link to an article about Spectrum offering free access to broadband and wifi for students without access for 60 days.

“What a wonderful group !!,” Wendy Schneider posted. “Reminds me of years ago , when everyone helped their neighbors!!”

Here for the long haul

The coronavirus outbreak sparked the idea for Monroe’s Healthy Helpers, but the Facebook page may outlast the global pandemic.

“I hope that, as this event plays out, that this page continues to be a place where people can reach out if they need help,” Heitzke said. “Going forward, I hope people look for ways to help others out over the next couple weeks, even if it’s not on this page — because people are going to need it.”

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