When COVID-19 first hit and disrupted supply chains, nurse Stacy Mason noticed that people she works with at Mary Washington Hospital began having trouble finding essential products at stores.
“A lot of nurses are parents, and you’d hear people say that they couldn’t find toilet paper, baby wipes, pull-up diapers or other items,” said Mason, an ICU nurse. “After that, when someone on the staff would see those items in the store, they’d pick them up, bring them in and leave them for people in need.
“Our ICU is a family, and in the spirit of that, we made sure that everyone had everything they needed,” she added. “After a while, we began thinking that if we could do that through just the ICU, why not create something with a broader reach for the health system as a whole, a broader example of community?”
To that end, Mason said she reached out to MWH nursing leadership, and with its blessing and help “launched a larger sort of pantry in the beginning of May, like a lending library at the Mary Washington and Stafford hospitals.”
It worked, and spread to other Mary Washington Healthcare locations. People would bring in nonperishable food items, baby products, toiletries and more, and folks needing those items would stop by a collection point set up between the Mary Washington Hospital building and an adjoining parking garage.
“Our Mary Washington Hospital Team Pantry has operated with no questions asked for anyone who needs the items,” she said, “from housekeeping to nursing to whatever department they work in at the hospital. We’ve had great success operating this way, with nurses’ families, friends and business partners donating as well, some doing donation drives in offices around Fredericksburg.”
As the person who spearheaded the project, Mason is declared a Hometown Hero, though the Fauquier County resident says she’s just one of many people who have made the pantry work.
Nominating the 32-year-old Mason for the honor, Michelle Lemke with Mary Washington Healthcare credited Mason with creating the pantry after seeing fellow hospital employees struggling due to the pandemic.
“Anyone who is in need can take those items to ease their burden,” said Lemke, an assistant nurse manager. “She inspires other associates and community partners to donate to this noble cause. The mantra is, ‘Give what you can: take what you need.’ ”
Lemke said Mason is always thinking of ways she can help others. She helps build Easter baskets for children in need and supports the Adopt-A-Family program for children during the holidays.
“She has a servant’s heart and always does her part in taking care of ill patients in the intensive care unit, including those with COVID-19,” Lemke said.
Mason, a mother of two, said she thinks the real heroes here are the people who donate items and time to the pantry.
“When we first got it started, we went to our human resources department and submitted the idea of having staffers and others interested donate items,” said Mason. “They put something up on our hospital home page, and a flier was made and distributed suggesting items to donate. Now that summer has come, we’re seeing some fresh produce come in, items grown in people’s gardens, and that’s really neat.”
Other items that frequently show up are snacks and toiletries. The pantry often is filled with basics like soap, toothpaste and whatever people who’ve worked long shifts at the hospital don’t have time to shop for.
“There are plenty of people who come through and take advantage of the pantry who are now in single-income families because of the virus,” said Mason. “There are also others who have lost a loved one and are facing different financial realities, and staffers who aren’t working the number of hours they once did.”
Mason said friends reach out to her to suggest items for the pantry. Some show up with a monthly infusion of items from a department store, and some local business people bring in items they’ve collected in their own food drives. Others donate money.
Mason said that when the pantry first started, she was mainly the one organizing and operating it.
“But now we have other people in the ICU and members of others teams in the hospital who are also pitching in and helping,” she said. “Seeing everyone come together to help has been one of the nicer parts of all this.”
Mason said she’s done her best to keep her family safe when she comes home. She has a vigorous sanitizing and clothes-changing protocol when she returns home from the ICU.
“There’s always some fear of coming home and either having my children getting the virus or taking it to my in-laws, and there’s always discussion of asymptomatic carriers,” she said. “I totally change clothes and shower first thing getting home. It took my children a while to understand why I didn’t hug them right away when I got home.”
Mason said the best part of dealing with the pandemic has been getting to celebrate the wins.
“When you see a patient leaving the hospital after being there with COVID, whether it’s in the ICU or a stepdown unit, and whether you were actually involved in their care, it’s very emotional,” she said. “To see someone wheeled out of the hospital after they’ve been there for over a month—some coming close to not making it out—is a very big and positive thing for us all.”