This is part of a series on Community Heroes, in which Clutch MOV asked readers for stories about their neighbors stepping up in different ways to help others get through COVID-19. Submit stories here

Several in the community have taken initiative to help with an especially vulnerable population: Senior citizens, many of whom fall into categories of those more susceptible to COVID-19. Such helpers in the area include an administrator at a senior facility in Parkersburg, staff at a nursing home in Harmar, and a restaurant owner who transitioned into serving free meals for seniors thanks to donations from the community.

Going Above and Beyond

Parkersburg Care Center is a 66-bed facility that offers short-stay rehabilitation, long-term, and respite services. Ashley Ince is an administrator there who has taken it upon herself to prioritize the health and happiness of her staff along with her patients.

“She is very positive,” said Deb Barker, a project development specialist for Genesis HealthCare. “When this stuff started in February, she’s been there not just for the employees but the community as well.” 

Barker noted Ince has excelled at adapting to video conferences with families to make sure they can “visit” their loved ones in the facility. 

“She is one of those caring people who makes sure everything is done,” said Barker. “Our patients are protected along with our staff.”

Barker said Ince regularly offers prayer for staff, feeds staff by bringing food in, and checks in on staff and patients daily. 

“If my staff are happy, my residents are happy,” said Ince. “Everyone is in a time of panic right now. I want to ease their minds and do nice things for them. It’s hard working in a nursing home now. This is our residents’ home.”

Because visitors are not allowed right now, Ince has done things like arranging for a horse to be brought to residents’ windows as well as decorate the entire center with flowers.  

“My staff is just as big a focus as my residents,” Ince said. “I told my staff this morning, they are my family. I see them more than I see my family. I love each and every one of them.”

Ince also provides an “employee refueling station” with snacks, since outside food is not permitted at this time for health and safety reasons.

“We ask them not to leave the premises during their shift to protect our residents,” said Ince. “I thought I would feed them. I go to Sam’s Club once every two weeks for snacks, candy, crackers, chips, and soda. They look forward to it! As soon as I put the basket down it’s gone.”

Ince has also made meals, like biscuits and gravy. 

“I’m proud of each team member of Parkersburg Care Center,” she said. “We’re gonna make it through this together.”

Exceptional Care

Leah Ontko has been a nurse at Harmar Place since she started there in 2009. She said her coworkers have been examples of those on the front lines doing everything they can for those in their care.

“We work very hard to be a second family to your loved one,” said Ontko. “From management to nursing, from dietary to housekeeping, from laundry to therapy, all of us matter to the one that matters most to you.”

Ontko said many of her coworkers have also been at the same location for years, leading to the creation of a tight-knit crew.

“We are like a family there,” she said. “A bunch of us have had options going to different places but we are a family. We take such good care of the residents and we work together so well.”

Ontko said that nursing homes might not get the same kind of glory as hospitals, though all are in need of donations now. 

“When it comes to nursing homes, we don’t see anything except how hard they are getting hit across the nation,” said Ontko. “But we are housing the elderly, the hardest hit, so we are seeing the highest numbers.”

Ontko said she hopes those reading such news reports will not judge nursing homes for this coverage, because “ we do take care, impeccable care of our residents.”

She added that Harmar Place, like other healthcare facilities, is in great need of personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, gloves, and cleaning equipment. 

“We run out of things so quick right now in America,” she said. “And as we start to re-open, nothing has really changed: There is still no vaccine. And I am worried donations might stop coming.”

Ontko said Harmar Place’s administrator keeps track of every single donation and sends a thank you card to everyone. 

“We appreciate any small donation,” she said. “Even the smallest means the most to us.”

Special Delivery

As Clutch MOV has previously reported, Joe Momma’s Kitchen transitioned into making and delivering meals to area seniors thanks to community donations. Now, the restaurant is open again for lunch carryout and delivery — and the senior meals program will continue, thanks to the O’Neill Center and Jeremiah’s Coffeehouse.

Sara Sauls, owner of the restaurant, said last week that business was understandably a little show. 

“We are about 60 percent down from pre-COVID sales,” she said. “People are still kind of nervous about eating out, even carry-out. But we are open!”

Sauls said that, after many weeks of making and donating meals for seniors, the restaurant knew they would not be able to continue that program in addition to being open to the public — Sauls had been managing 15 volunteer drivers a week in addition to taking orders and managing communications. However, the O’Neill Center offered to take on those logistics for the future, meaning Sauls can get back to what she does best: Planning and executing menus and meal prep. Each day at 10:30 a.m. Sauls will bring food to the center. Jeremiah’s Coffeehouse will be creating meals for a 2:30 p.m. drop off each day, as well. The center will pay both businesses for their meals.

“It’s a big win for us to be able to continue,” said Sauls.

Sauls has made an impact on her regular customers over the last few years.

“She’s very upbeat,” said Sally Shaw, a regular at Joe Momma’s. “She is faith minded and very giving. So giving. The restaurant has always been community-minded, in donating tips to charities and nonprofits.” 

Sauls feels gratified by the community’s support. 

“We’ve been open for 5 years and we have donated our tips to local charities that whole time,” she said. “I talked to God about it and set an example for how much you should love your community.”

Sauls said this effort was not without a struggle, but that she feels doing the right thing was what kept her restaurant afloat this spring. 

“It is absolutely the reason our doors are still open,” she said. “Most of the time you do the right thing and you’re the only one who knows it, but this time all of these volunteers showed up and all these donations came in. Those people participating made it possible to stay open. We didn’t lose money during a pandemic.”

Shaw feels Sauls has made the most of her talents in a way few can achieve.  

“She did all that organizing and planning the meals based on what she could get,” said Shaw. “The donations are a validation and confirmation of how people feel about her and what she does. She’s not only giving of herself, but she inspires that in others. That’s a real gift.”

Illustrations by Artist Leigh Cox