Wyoming residents continued to reach out to help one another through the coronavirus in this past week, even as businesses closed by the pandemic began to reopen their doors.

Newspapers across the state were filled this week with stories of efforts to help those hit by the pandemic, from a special relief fund for first responders and a drive-by celebration of a woman’s 90th birthday to the two Newcastle girls who wrote letters to isolated nursing home residents and the Jackson seamstress who made 2,400 masks.

Here are a few examples:

Girls reach out to nursing home residents with letters

NEWCASTLE — The isolation of social distancing and quarantine has made life hard for everyone, but nursing home residents have perhaps received the shortest end of the stick. However, two young ladies decided to make lemonade from lemons. Preslee Fitzwater, 12, and her sister Addie, 10, daughters of Michelle and William Fitzwater, decided to write letters and color pictures to give residents “something to hang on their wall.”

Michelle said her girls needed something to do during quarantine. What better way than to offer encouragement?

“Technically, I didn’t do anything — my girls did it,” Michelle said.

According to Allison Farella, director of the Weston County Manor, the isolation has been hard on the residents because they can no longer eat together or visit with one another.

“It’s caused a lot of them to feel down,” Farella said. “There’s no end in sight.”

Because Easter was coming, Preslee said, she knew that if she were a resident of the Manor, she would want to be visited by her loved ones. She was sad that the residents would miss out on those visits this year. That’s why she decided to put in the effort and do something thoughtful like letters and pictures.

“I thought I could brighten someone’s day,” Preslee said. “I enjoyed coloring all of them, knowing they’d be enjoyed.”

“I know that it makes their day, and it makes me happy,” Addie said. — Newcastle News Letter Journal


Jackson seamstress makes 2,400 masks

JACKSON — People across Jackson have jumped into action since the coronavirus outbreak started. Some have made face shields, others have delivered food to health care workers.

A contingent has sewed cloth face masks. The masks don’t help in the operating room, but they come in handy when nurses and doctors are talking away from patients or when they go to the grocery store after work.

Making the masks is a way someone can help with little more than fabric and a sewing machine. For Carmen Gloria Rodriguez it was the most practical way to pitch in once she found herself stuck at home.

“I felt the need of doing something for the people, for my community. I love helping others,” Rodriguez said in an email to the News&Guide. “I always had the desire of contributing to the community that welcomed me when I came from Chile.”

Like many others, Rodriguez is an immigrant. She grew up in a small town in Patagonia, then moved to Santiago, and she has lived in Jackson for about 10 years.

Now she works as a seamstress at Blue Spruce Cleaners, but that work has essentially dried up because people are “not worried about fixing their clothes.” Instead of firing up Netflix, Rodriguez fired up her sewing machine. She washes fabric, then cuts it in bulk before assembling the masks.

When she had the idea to make masks she called the hospital, where someone put her in touch with Keegan Pfiel, an emergency department nurse coordinating community mask-making efforts. Once she had someone to pick them up, she started in earnest.

As of May 5 she had made about 1,700 masks for the hospital, and another 700 for others. — Jackson Hole News&Guide


LDS donates 18 tons of food to Laramie food bank

LARAMIE — Laramie Interfaith received 37,000 pounds of food from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on May 5.

A semi-truck loaded with non-perishables — canned soup, pork and beans, macaroni, sugar and flour and stew meat — arrived at about 9 a.m. from Salt Lake City where the LDS food warehouse system is hubbed.

“Albany County is one of the most food insecure counties in the state,” Interfaith director Michael Vercauteren said. “One in five people in Albany County live with food insecurity.”

Last year, Interfaith distributed 249,000 meals — about 315,000 pounds of food, or roughly 1000 pounds per day.

“We’re still doing at least 1000 pounds a day,” Vercauteren said. “The need is there. The need will probably increase, but our supplies are going to be decreasing.”

Part of the problem, he says, is that the organization depends heavily on the Food Bank of the Rockies in Casper, and they’re running out of food themselves.

However, donations, like the truckload from LDS, have been good.

“This is huge. We’ve never gotten a truck like this,” Vercauteren said. “And so this is really just perfect. We can take care of people in Laramie.”

Richard Avery, a member of the LDS church who helped organize the donation, said the church has a large commodities warehouse system, and that food is now being made widely available around the world in the face COVID-19. — Laramie Boomerang


Residents support nonprofits at drive-thru Wyoming Way Donation Day

CHEYENNE – Before coronavirus hit Wyoming, Cheyenne pharmacist Kelsey James planned on having a normal 29th birthday. Instead, she spent the day collecting supplies and donations for local nonprofits at a drive she organized.

James came up with the idea for a donation day when she saw the effects coronavirus was having on her patients.

She began delivering groceries to her clients who couldn’t do it themselves, but realized she wanted to give back on a larger scale.

On May 9, James’ idea came to fruition, and the Kiwanis Community House became a drive-thru donation site for the first-ever Wyoming Way Donation Day.

“It’s just been insane, which is great because that’s what the community needs right now,” James said.

Between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday, Cheyenne residents drove through with trunks full of goods volunteers unloaded and sorted in the Kiwanis Community House for local nonprofits. Financial donations were also accepted in-person and online for those who didn’t feel comfortable leaving the house, and before Saturday, $1,800 had been raised online.

On Saturday, they received an additional $2,700, including someone who donated their entire $1,200 stimulus check.

Volunteers needed additional time to weigh the donations after the drive, but throughout the day, Needs Inc. transported multiple vans loaded with supplies like macaroni and cheese, toilet paper and dog food.

Needs will then help distribute the supplies to nonprofits like Safehouse Services and Saint Joseph’s Food Pantry. — Wyoming Tribune Eagle


Drive-by celebration helps woman mark 90th

WORLAND – An evening traffic jam on Howell Avenue in Worland on April 24, was the unexpected public indicator that Mrs. Shirley Runge had reached 90 years of age.

The lifelong Worland resident, born Shirley Hampton in 1930, was surprised by the outpouring of good wishes and congratulations from friends and loved ones in a "drive by" birthday celebration.

Because of the "social distancing" situation with the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), Samantha Strickler and some others among Shirley's friends organized a party in which happy birthday wishes could be conveyed from passing vehicles. Shirley stood in her front yard. For an hour or longer, a great many folks drove by Shirley's Howell Avenue home, stopping their cars or slowing them to a crawl. They honked their horns, waved and called out their birthday benedictions. Shirley waved and greeted them in return.

At the party's peak, as many as six cars at once promenaded slowly past Shirley's home.

"I didn't realize they were lined up like that," Shirley said. She said she thought it was great.

Shirley said she had always lived in town, not in the countryside. She remarked about Worland's growth and the changes she has seen over the decades. "I used to ride horses a lot," she said. "Washakie Avenue was out of town."

Shirley said she enjoyed the surprise celebration. "I guess I don't turn 90 very often!” — Northern Wyoming News


First responder fund aims to fill in the gaps

JACKSON — While most of us have been holed up at home working, watching Netflix and donning real pants only to buy groceries, first responders have gone about their business, helping sick people, keeping the public safe. Even though each house call could expose them to the coronavirus, working through a crisis is what they signed up for.

Wilson resident Tom Patricelli wanted to find a way to thank those first responders. With the help of Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr and the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole, he found one, a new fund designated for first responders, their families and agencies.

“These people can’t stay home, they can’t shelter in place,” he said. “I think sometimes we take them for granted, but they are putting it on the line for us every day.”

Patricelli seeded the First Responders Support Fund with its first influx of cash and hopes others will follow suit.

“What I’ve found in 20 years of working in the nonprofit world in this town, is that if you put a good idea in front of this community,” he said, “the community will step up.”

The fund is intended to cover three main areas: first responders’ families, training and protective equipment. Economic stagnation caused by county and state orders that closed business has lowered town and county revenues, which eats into the budgets of the Teton County Sheriff’s Office, Jackson Hole Fire/EMS and the Jackson Police Department. — Jackson Hole News&Guide


Thermopolis woman’s coronavirus parody song goes viral

THERMOPOLIS — A local woman has become something of a celebrity after a parody she sang and posted to Facebook went viral overnight.

Jenie Borders had had “one of those days” with her kids during this pandemic, and that evening she sat down and sang her own rendition of a Tones and I song, “Dance Monkey.”

In the Tones and I rendition, it repeats a phrase over and over, so Borders took that cue with her kids, ages six, five and nine months, saying “hey mommy, hey mommy, hey mommy can we just go and play with friends today?” over and over all day and added “no babies, no babies, no babies, not today, because we’re stuck inside ‘til corona goes away.”

Her husband, Nick, urged her to download the video that night and when she checked her Facebook account the next morning, it had exploded with 11,000 people watching it and 200 people having shared it.

“I was very surprised and very humbled,” she said. “Since then hundreds of people have reached out. I’ve made them smile or laugh. For me it was comedic stress relief.”

Since then, her incredible voice and true to life parody has been featured on the Today Show’s Parents page and had more than three million views.

“I’ve had people reach out to me from all over the world,” she said. “I’ve had people from Australia, New Zealand, Guam, Germany – all over the place reach out. Really, for me this is an opportunity for us to keep being kind and of course, safe.”

Borders and her husband moved to Thermopolis from Greybull just two years ago. — Thermopolis Independent Record


Photographer helps high schoolers make prom memories

GILLETTE — Many seniors bought dresses this year, only to find out soon after that prom was not going to be held due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But they did have an opportunity to at least put a memory on the mantle last weekend, when proms at Campbell County and Thunder Basin high schools had been scheduled to occur if the coronavirus hadn’t disrupted the high school rite of passage.

Jessica Lass, who owns 1,000 Words Photography in Gillette, wanted to provide high schoolers the chance to still get dressed up and have their pictures taken. She set up about 20 appointments for Friday and Saturday — a few couples, but mostly girls, Lass said.

Her son is a senior in high school and Lass knows many of his friends, but her efforts were more geared towards the girls in Gillette who might never wear their dresses otherwise.

“I know there’s a lot of disappointment out there. So I wanted to do something that would still allow them to still have some fun and still get something out of it,” Lass said. “I also wanted it to be reachable as far as finances.”

Lass only charged students $30 for the photo sessions. Lass took the photos outside (weather permitting) and maintained social distancing herself during the process.

“They spend a lot of time and effort trying on gowns and finding that perfect one,” Lass said. “It’s kind of a high school rite of passage, especially your senior prom. To miss that for a lot of girls is a really big deal.

“At the very least, it’s something. It’s a memento. It’s a chance to show off their gown and get dressed up.” — Gillette News Record


Drive-by photo gallery to benefit food bank

POWELL — A group of local photographers is preparing a unique gallery, specially made for those socially distancing during the pandemic and all to benefit Powell’s emergency food bank.

The Drive By Gallery — which opens Saturday at Aldrich Lumber on East First Street from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. — will feature 5-foot photos from 10 photographers.

Pat Honstain, who has been an active photographer in the region for the past 40-plus years, came up with the idea of printing extremely large photographs so area art lovers have a chance to see the work without getting out of the car. Plus, Honstain said Powell Valley Loaves and Fishes “really needs the help right now because they’re putting out record amounts of food.”

“Everybody just needs to do what they can do to help out,” he said. “That’s really what it’s all about.”

One of the special problems for this type of gallery was the need for a large outdoor venue capable of handling large photos easily seen from the road. That’s when Ken VanGrinsven stepped in to offer the side of the Aldrich building.

Honstain then needed a local company that was both capable of making the prints and had a heart of gold to do the expensive prints “at cost.” Chris and Bonnie Jensen, of BJ’s Matting and Framing came to the rescue.

Finally, Honstain started calling photographers. He met his quota in the first nine calls.

“There are some amazing photographers around this part of the country — many more than we have room for,” he said. — Powell Tribune

Wyoming’s residents continued to reach out to one another with offers of help in the last week, even as the counties around the state began relaxing the restrictions on businesses imposed in March.

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