'Underappreciated heroes of this pandemic': Ga. church provides care packages for EMS workers

"Sweets from St. Mark's" packages include snacks and inspirational messages penned by congregation members


Ryan Anderson
The Daily Citizen, Dalton, Ga.

DALTON, Ga. — "We're just incredibly busy now, and it all broke loose in one 12-hour shift" four to six weeks ago, said Lee Duman, a Hamilton Emergency Medical Services captain. "We went from zero to 60 and have continued that."

"Our volume is about double" where it would typically be this time of year, and "there is no letup," Duman added. "These guys are tired."

It's "everywhere, every community, every EMS," said fellow captain Claudio Leyssens. "These are the underappreciated heroes of this pandemic."

For that reason, care packages dropped off Monday for EMS workers from St. Mark's Episcopal Church were thoroughly appreciated, Leyssens said.

"These little things go a huge, long way."

Father Rick Tiff was thrilled to hear that.

St. Mark's had planned to begin a "Messy Church" intergenerational initiative but delayed it until October due to COVID-19, so the congregation members instead chose to create care packages for Hamilton Health Care System employees in Dalton, Tiff said. He delivered 1,200 bags Monday to all types of workers, from EMS and respiratory therapists to those who work in the emergency room and intensive care unit, as "we're trying to get to everyone."

As a U.S. Navy chaplain in Afghanistan, Tiff learned "it's about getting out to the people," he said. "We hope this will be a lift to people."

"It definitely will be, and it's very appreciated," assured Daryl Cole, marketing communications manager for Hamilton Health Care System. "They're (Hamilton employees) going through a whole lot — it can get really difficult and stressful — so to know they're not forgotten is a pick-me-up."

"Everybody is short-staffed, too," now, Leyssens said. "There's such a need for any healthcare providers, and they're just not there."

That puts more pressure on those who are working, especially those with families, he said. And family members "are suffering because you're not there" at home.

And while the number of calls have slightly curtailed their steep rise in recent days, "we're at 75 miles per hour instead of 100 miles per hour, I don't know how else to put it," he said. "We're still going up, just not as much."

Ambulance crews have the added responsibility of sterilizing vehicles, which adds time and work to their regular duties, Duman said.

"If (patients) have any respiratory issues or signs of flu or COVID-19, we gas the truck, and our guys have done a really good job of (preventing) spread" of diseases.

The church congregation have been working on "Sweets from St. Mark's" for several weeks, and "we got a lot of donations" to fill care packages with sweets, salty snacks, nutritional bars, etc., Tiff said. Each bag has inspirational messages penned by congregation members, as well, such as "We're grateful," "Thank you" and "God bless you."

Members of the congregation prepared the bags following Sunday's service, Tiff said. "I was sincerely surprised" to have so many packages.

Leyssens, who attends St. Mark's with his family, was not shocked.

"I knew the congregation would support it, because that's how they are," he said. "They're absolutely amazing."

It is "a good community, and a church is about community," Tiff said. "We want to support our community, and I was blown away" by this effort.

This endeavor "shows they care, that (healthcare workers) are not forgotten, that you're thinking about them," Cole said. "That is so important right now."

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(c)2021 The Daily Citizen (Dalton, Ga.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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