WATERTOWN — Laurie Stewart wanted to do something to help people affected by the coronavirus. Already working part time as a hospital respiratory therapist, she felt there still was more she could contribute.
So on Friday, Stewart debuted COVID-19 Care of Jefferson County WI, a Facebook group that acts as a clearinghouse for organizing needs and resources during this historic pandemic.
“This is an unprecedented time with much uncertainty,” the Town of Watertown resident said. “We live in an amazing community that wants to help each other however we can. This group was created to match needs with the ability to help.”
Its goal, Stewart explained, is to organize the local community to ensure that vulnerable residents have access to food, housing, health care and other necessities.
“It is also for the redistribution of resources in the case that stockpiling prevents people from accessing basics,” she added.
As a part-time respiratory therapist at Fort Memorial Hospital in Fort Atkinson, she already has been on the front lines in the battle against COVID-10. And as a real estate agent with First Weber Lake Country in Delafield, she is able to do much of her job from the homefront.
“Being at home more has allowed me to get some projects done around my house and spend more time with my pets,” Stewart said. “It’s also given me time to think about how I can be of service to others, which is what prompted me to start this Facebook group.”
The inspiration came from the COVID-19 Care for Lake Country Group, which she used as a template. That page was created by Casey Hushon of Hope Lake Country Church, with whom Stewart became acquainted her through real estate work.
“The mission is to match needs with the ability to help, as well as to be an exchange of information,” she explained. “Some examples of the types of posts I’ve seen include information on blood-donation drives and a pet pantry, how folks can find necessities like masks and gloves for in-home care workers, what stores have bottled water or toilet paper in stock, and articles on ways to help.”
The content on the new Facebook group is organized by hashtags:
• #ISO: “In search of” specific support or resources.
• #OFFER: Going for a supply run, have specific items available, etc.
• #SHOPS: Information about shops or places that have specific supplies.
• #RESOURCES: Links to services, etc.
“All kinds of mutual aid and support posts are welcome, in addition to COVID-19-specific information,” Stewart said.
What is not welcome are politics, prejudice, illegal activities and self/business promotion unless it pertains to needs during this time. The moderators — Stewart and her husband, Keith — reserve the right to delete inappropriate posts and ban users who break the rules or who use the group for non-aid purposes.
“And please be kind to one another,” Stewart urged. “This is a place to help build each other up and find ways to help one another in times we’ve never experienced before.”
Within its first 24 hours, 250 people had joined the group. And it is growing by the hour.
“It’s the people in the group that will really make it a success,” Stewart said. “People in this area really have a heart for helping others and finding a way to be of service. I’m hoping that churches and other community service groups will invite their members to join the page.”
Stewart said she also hopes that her group page will share heartwarming stories like some she has read on similar pages in other areas.
“One ask was for a specific brand of cornstarch that was needed to help a child with medical issues to digest his food properly,” she recalled. “Due to social-distancing restrictions and other issues, the parent was not able to get some, and the online prices were high. Several group members delivered cornstarch to the family’s front porch.”
And another: “A person with a health issue that causes them to go through a lot of toilet paper was running out and didn’t have the means or ability to find some, so several group members gave this person a supply of TP.”
Stewart said that even the small hurdles can be high during times like these, and everyone can use a boost.
“To see how people are stepping up to help others is really heartening, whether it’s by giving to others or being supportive of local businesses,” she said. “Businesses are being forced to be nimble and adapt their business model, and they’re coming up with some very creative solutions. I think we’ll come out on the other side of this better and stronger.”