An anniversary of caring: Pam Blais delivers to caregivers

March 5, 2021

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Anniversaries are sometimes faced with mixed emotions. For some, there’s pure joy in recalling a wedding anniversary or the day children or grandchildren were born. Conversely, some bring sadness, reminders of the loss of loved ones or of a catastrophic event such as 9/11. For Pam Blais, like the global community, March 2021 represents the first anniversary of the start of COVID-19. This horrific pandemic, like the unfathomable events of 9/11, inspired in Blais and her daughters, Gilly and Sarah, to change adversity into positive acts toward others.

For 27 years Blais has worked in the clinical area—in pediatric intensive care, the emergency room, hospice, and case management. Because of this experience, Blais understands the pressure hospital workers endure, and, so the outbreak of COVID-19 ignited in her the passion to support frontline healthcare providers.

In March, Blais, a full-time nurse, established a Go-Fund-Me Page that brought an outpouring of help from funders, volunteers, restaurant owners, and local businesses. By early summer she raised $10,000 that enabled her to get restaurants to provide 7,000 meals to frontline healthcare teams. In addition to the meals, Blais and her daughters delivered pantry boxes filled with goodies to COVID units, emergency rooms, and ICU’s at all of the area hospitals nearly every day since March. Plus, Gilly, a full-time college student, wrote letters to businesses and donors, as well as managed social media for the project.

The Pantry Box Project made a huge impact for so many in the healthcare field, as it was aligned with the Jewish values of repairing the world, tikkun olam, and generosity, tzedakah. Myriad businesses support the effort, including: Brueggers, Yorgos, Einstein Bagels, Brooklyn Bagels, No Frill Grill, YNot Pizza, Tropical Smoothie, IHop, Starbucks, Harris Teeter, Dollar Tree, Krispy Kreme, and Jody’s Popcorn.

In December, Blais established a fund at Tidewater Jewish Foundation to provide meals to healthcare providers, specifically in COVID units, emergency departments, and ICU’s. Philanthropic efforts helped raise more than $10,500 that allowed Blais to connect with Mercy Chefs to expand the scale, scope, and quality of the project. The outcome and synergy were exponential, with more than 10,000 meals served. Pantry Box alone served frontline providers in nine hospitals with all funds going to either Mercy Chefs or local restaurants.

Mercy Chefs, home-based in Portsmouth, is currently dealing with weather related disasters in Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and Alabama, and they are not able to continue to support local hospital heroes.

\While the project no longer has meal deliveries through Mercy Chefs, Pantry Box still fills boxes and delivers meals to the frontline workers. The organization’s efforts continue to thrive with volunteers flocking to help. Recently, Sarah Blais, a 2020 graduate of Cape Henry, contacted her alma mater about supporting the Pantry Box Project. Amanda Hayes, Middle School principal, was excited for this opportunity and the students voted to participate. Sarah engaged with the student leaders via a Zoom presentation, explaining the project and what should be packed in the boxes. The Cape Henry students collected and packed 100 boxes, and Norfolk Academy’s lower school collected candy and contributed money. Currently, 20 volunteers bake lasagnas each week, while parents and children bake cookies, banana bread, and brownies.

After the overwhelming support from the community, the fund with Tidewater Jewish Foundation is now closed. “We celebrate all we have accomplished together, and our thanks go to the Foundation for helping us with the mission of honoring our Jewish values through philanthropy,” says Blais.

Now, Blais and her team are looking to the future with their own, recently formed foundation, Care4frontline. Approval of the agency’s 501c3 nonprofit status is due in the upcoming weeks.

In setting new goals for Care4frontline, Blais and her partner, Cathy Fox, BSN, RN, will continue to make daily deliveries of boxes of special treats and will supplement with other meals each week. Throughout this year, Blais and Fox have also become increasingly concerned about the mental health toll facing frontline healthcare providers and are working towards providing them with mental health support. In recognition of the two-fold needs of feeding the bodies of hospital workers, as well as providing nourishment for their souls, the Project is adding psychological support to a jam-packed schedule. The team of volunteers now include yoga instructors, meditation instructors, and dance therapy leaders, all providing free classes to the health care heroes. Toward supporting the art project, Tau Upsilon Alpha, an honor society at Old Dominion University, donated $500 to pair up with Melinda and Scott Vouss, Board and Brush, Norfolk, to hold private classes for frontline healthcare providers who care for the COVID population.

As Blais and her team prepare for the first anniversary of their project during the pandemic, they are filled with mixed emotions. The loss of more than 510,000 lives in the United States is devastating; however, COVID vaccines have brought hope that better times lie ahead.

Like Pam Blais and her team, others can help support the hospital workers. Volunteers are needed to deliver bagels, bananas, candy, etc. Suggestions of businesses that might join these efforts are also appreciated. Plus, the lasagna and sweets brigade can always use extra hands.

Contact pmblais56@gmail.com for information and offers of support, as well as any other skills to share.

- Patti Wainger

Letter to the Editor