Indispensable Women

Saluting COVID-19 Frontline Heroes

No doubt the word es·sen·tial assumed renewed meaning during 2020:  "absolutely necessary; extremely important." Prior to 2020, everyone might've considered themselves 'necessary' to how everyday life manifested. However, as the coronavirus pandemic prompted an unprecedented U.S. shutdown, many people discovered just how essential they were to keeping their immediate communities alive. It was a year of reminders that nothing happens in a vacuum. Missouri guidelines eventually categorized essential employee as:  health care workers; caregivers; law enforcers; firefighters; first responders; government operators; mental health/social service workers; pharmacy employees; workers supporting groceries, pharmacies and retail sales of food/beverage products; restaurant carryout/quick-serve food operators; food deliverers; farmworkers; electricity/utility industry employees; mechanics, construction workers, electricians, plumbers; medical supply chains; food producers; petroleum/natural/propane gas workers; transportation/logistics workers; communications and information technology employees. This feature’s intent is to share gratitude to ALL who risked their lives to sustain the rest of us during this long pandemic, especially anyone who's feeling overlooked and deprioritized, even expendable. The following community residents are representative of all essential employees with lived realities about coronavirus survival.

Chesterfield Police Officer Teresa Koebbe says officers continued to go above-and-beyond for the community during the pandemic, which added more risk to an already dangerous job. 

"Police officers were creative in giving help during new pandemic challenges. Chesterfield PD started a prescription delivery program, where residents who didn't feel safe going out of their homes could contact us to pick up and deliver essential prescriptions," recalls Teresa.

Chesterfield police officers voted to take a pay cut instead of the city furloughing officers during the pandemic. Teresa says citizens raised money, delivered gift cards, and brought food/care packages to the station in response. "It was wonderful to see the outpouring of community appreciation," she adds. 

Ka'Tina McAfee, Dierbergs assistant store director, says she coped by taking deep breaths and listening with truly open ears. The pandemic prompted her to consider all the ways to communicate with customers about why certain things were happening.

She says she wishes more people would've considered that workers, too, were going through the same pandemic with similar feelings.

Ka'Tina says the pandemic made her want to do more, so she volunteered for the Pfizer vaccination trial. 

Jackie Holloman, St. Luke's Hospital senior director ancillary services, reflected, "How teams came together so quickly to provide patient care was an awesome thing to witness."

Her husband packed picnics for her days-off. "We'd go to my mom’s house, sit on the patio and talk through the screen. Thank God for FaceTime," she says. 

Jackie works with a local high school group interested in pursuing health care careers. "When I emailed 70-plus students and their parents that we'd have to postpone the program, I was in awe of how quickly they made masks and fundraised for the hospital." 

St. Luke's Infectious Disease Physician Pearl Philip, MD, believes they were so close to this pandemic, it was hard to appreciate the enormity the world was experiencing. "I’m grateful to be alive, in a profession, in a hospital, in a country where I can be part of the solution and actively hope," she says. 

When people appear cavalier about COVID-19 precautions, this physician wishes they could see what the medical staffs see–just how sick this virus makes people. "Surviving COVID-19 shouldn't be taken for granted."

"Nothing we achieved in confronting this crisis could've been done without team effort. Our individual struggles were a shared struggle. In doing so, our burden was lightened," says Dr. Philip.

She concludes:  "One virus brought the world to a standstill. COVID-19 helped us understand our shared vulnerability and interconnectedness. The pandemic summoned the best of human ingenuity–the creation of such an effective vaccine in a year is nothing but astonishing."

Kari Johnson, Chesterfield recreation superintendent, says although the parks/recreation/arts department struggled, they did their best to provide for residents by keeping parks actively open. "Biking, hiking and walking became a huge benefit in coping."

She says she learned how important parks, recreation and arts really is to patrons. "Our parks filled with socially distanced groups, circled up, wearing masks, talking and laughing. It was really wonderful to see."

Kari says seniors were tremendously grateful for the Joy Bags they assembled, with donations from generous business teams.

"Going through the pandemic was humbling. Just taking time to have longer conversations and show you care goes a long way. When depression and anxiety came to the forefront, the parks and trails were some people's light," she concludes. 

Melissa Weissler, Operation Food Search child nutrition program manager, ponders how many people navigated the emergency food network for the first time, suddenly learning it can be a fairly complicated system. 

"I didn’t feel isolation, rather overload, at having to interact with so many people, when we were scared everyone was a potential threat to our health. I had to trust distancing and PPE guidelines would keep me safe," she adds. 

Melissa says, "When courting donors, we say, 'you never know when you might need a helping hand yourself.' When COVID shutdowns hit, too many people from the 'this will never happen to me' category found themselves there. We hope most people never need us, but we're here if they do."

She says St. Louis County Library staffers stepped up in incredible ways to ensure the community had access to food resources. "So many partners went above-and-beyond their normal scope because they understood these were extraordinary times."

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