By Colleen Lehmann DCHD public health liaison
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a true crisis from any measurable standpoint. But in the midst of grappling with this global calamity, acts of kindness, caring, and compassion have emerged as well.
Douglas County has been the fortunate recipient of such benevolence, including in the form of numerous volunteers willing to step in and step up, helping whenever help is needed. DCHD would like to shine a light on these unsung heroes periodically, beginning with Tammy Bennett.
Tammy is environmental manager and emergency response team coordinator at Cabot Corporation. She and her husband, Brad, live in Tuscola with sons Matthew, Thomas, and Andrew.
What efforts have you been involved with/founded since the start of the pandemic?
Douglas County COVID Task Force member, Douglas County LPEC co-vice chair, Cabot Tuscola COVID team, Coordinator of Douglas County Mask Makers, Coordinator of volunteers to assist seniors with vaccine registration, and parent of Thomas and Andrew who made face shields, ear straps, and nose clips.
What was your mindset behind starting or volunteering with these efforts?
Volunteering has been an important part of my life growing up in Tuscola. I remember the winter blizzards in the 1970’s and helping with my grandma and mom at the community building when we had stranded motorists. That passion remains with me today and extends to my family now.
When COVID hit, it was easy to say – what can we do to help?
I remember discussing PPE shortages with Joe Victor, and after some research my son Andrew was able to design and 3D print an N95 prototype with the help of his older brother Matthew. Shortly after, we discovered how to make face shields and that ramped into full production. I was very proud of how the boys worked together making these shields and providing them to local fire departments in the country as well as nursing homes and eventually, the schools.
Our county was blessed with many agencies, municipalities, schools, nursing homes, industry and county partners who came together very early in the response and formed a task force to monitor and respond to COVID. As needs were raised, we worked together as a team and with our partners and community citizens to find solutions throughout the entire pandemic.
Approximately how many items have been made/distributed?
Cloth masks – 3,500+, headbands – 50+, Mask tabs – 600+ (over 1,600 volunteer hours March-July 2020), 3D printed face shields – 400+, 3D printed ear straps – 200+, and 3D printed nose clips – 200+.
These items were donated to many different groups, which included: DCEMA, DCHD, local nursing homes, local schools (Villa Grove, Arcola, Tuscola, Arthur), county fire departments, assisted living facilities, nurses, local dentists, local businesses/medical facilities, daycares, individuals, etc. We are forever grateful for the support of our volunteers, citizens and businesses that supported these efforts with their time, financial donations and donations of materials and supplies.
What has been the most gratifying thing about being involved with these efforts?
Living in a small rural country, there is a mindset of working together as a village to help others. When cloth masks were needed, an amazing group of 40 volunteers stepped up and donated materials, time, and talents to make masks, crochet tabs, and headbands. These volunteers worked for two months solid making over 2,000 masks for students/teachers and masks for musical instruments so that local school bands could perform! We even had the amazing residents of Jarman Center help us out as well.
When we all needed supplies for the face shields or cloth masks, residents of the county answered the call with donations of materials or money to offset the costs for materials. We also had the support of Staples and Cabot which provided materials to help in several county efforts.
On a personal note — seeing my sons find creative solutions to help others was a proud moment for our family. They worked together and learned skills most don’t learn until high school or college that will carry them for a lifetime. They were blessed with many caring and giving individuals who donated to their cause. This spring they were able to make donations to five local groups in our county.
This spring, volunteers answered the call again when requested to assist seniors with COVID vaccine registration. A group of 15 volunteers have been working with local residents needing assistance to schedule their vaccine first and second-dose appointments through the Douglas County Health Department. To date, this group has assisted over 200 individuals, and each time a vaccine spot is secured we know that we are making a difference in protecting them and their loved ones.
What has been the most challenging about being involved with these efforts?
I never dreamed we would live in a time of global pandemic that has impacted so many families, businesses, education and the economy. My heart breaks for the loss of loved ones, the loss of our daily routines, and the restrictions we had to endure to help slow the spread. Our nurses, doctors, health care providers, first responders, teachers, and staff all sacrificed so much to help save lives and educate our precious loved ones.
My biggest concern is for the long-term impacts as they relate to mental health and education for our kids, as we have not seen the full impact. I hope they get the help they need to work through these issues and I pray that people will always find ways to Be The Helper.
In addition to her COVID-related activities, Tammy is a member of Douglas County Ground and Search and Rescue, Medical Reserved Corps, and is a volunteer assistant soccer coach. Spending time with kids, family and friends, kayaking, and fishing round out her list of favorite pastimes.