Hartford HealthCare Makes Mystic Donations

As the novel coronavirus spread across Connecticut from west to east, myriad nonprofits were being called upon to assist residents as illness struck, job losses mounted, and safety nets were strained.

Nonprofits both large and small have seen an increase in requests for help and an uptick in users, whether it’s food pantries, homeless shelters, or nature preserves. While managing the healthcare aspects of the virus, Hartford HealthCare is witnessing the important impact of these NPOs.

“These small organizations do really mighty work,” said Donna Handley, President of Hartford HealthCare’s East Region, which includes Backus and Windham Hospitals, and Senior Vice President, Hartford HealthCare. “As an organization, we were planning to make a donation to five nonprofits in southeastern Connecticut to celebrate the opening of our newest HealthCenter in Mystic. But with the onset of the coronavirus and the resulting social services crises we have seen, we are speeding up the timetable because of the need.”

The amount of the grants - $2,020 – was chosen to commemorate the opening of the Mystic HealthCenter this year. HHC’s Mystic HealthCare HealthCenter, located on Perkins Farm Drive, opened at the end of January. It is home to primary care, cardiology and vascular services, neuromuscular services, neurosurgery, pain management, movement disorders, imaging, and rehabilitation therapy. An official grand opening had been planned for June, when the grants would have been announced.

But the pandemic put a hold on the grand opening, while simultaneously underscoring the important work these organizations do in the region, so Hartford HealthCare made the donations last month.

Two of the nonprofits in particular are meeting immediate needs, Handley noted: the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center’s Food Bank, which has seen more clients every week as employers have laid off and furloughed workers. And the Stonington Community Center, which is using its Luzbot TAZ 6 3D printer and the Glowforge Plus laser-cutter to produce 3D-printed protective face shields for first responders and healthcare workers, has already made and delivered 40 shields to frontline workers.

Additionally, the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center’s Giving Garden at Coogan Farm has had to delay planting. Last year, the Giving Garden grew and donated more than 6 tons of fresh produce to the Gemma Moran United Way/Labor Food Bank, which helps feed New London County’s 23,000 food insecure residents.

Davnet Shaffer, executive director of the Nature Center, said the garden uses 4,000 volunteer hours to help plant, tend and harvest produce. But with social distancing rules, plantings have not begun.

Betty Smith, executive director of Always Home, which prevents family homelessness, noted that “In the days, weeks and months ahead, we expect to see an increased number of families at risk of homelessness” because of the employment and social fallout of the virus.

Recipients of the $2,020 grants are:

Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center, Weekender Backpack Food Program for Children. The Weekender Backpack Food Program for Children benefits about 300 children residing in Mystic, Stonington, North Stonington and Westerly. Each child receives a “backpack” every Friday containing about 45 pounds of food to make breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menus change weekly.

Stonington Community Center, Youth STEAM and Makerspace programs. Hundreds of kids each year cycle through these programs, which are growing in popularity. The programs include Girls Who Code, Tinkering Tuesdays, Design for 3D Printing, and Family Maker Fridays (includes laser cutting and other activities).

Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center’s Giving Garden at Coogan Farm. DPNC’s Giving Garden grows fresh produce to benefit New London County’s 23,000 food insecure residents via the Gemma E. Moran United Way Labor Food Center, which distributes food to 63 programs that serve 91 feeding sites across the county. The Garden, run by volunteers, donates more than 6 tons of food annually.

Always Home, Wheels to Work program. Always Home’s mission is preventing family homelessness. The organization serves families with minor children, with a particular emphasis on helping parents achieve stability so that they can focus on the well-being of their children. The Wheels to Work program provides funding for needed car repairs or service, and also purchases cars for families when needed.

Groton Community Meals. This collaboration of local churches provides a hot meal every Monday and Wednesday night to anyone who needs it at two locations in Groton. The organization exists entirely with donations and volunteers. It feeds between 100 and 150 people each week.