During the COVID-19 pandemic, public employees across the nation have given back to their communities in extraordinary ways. From donating to food banks to helping their neighbors and protecting their communities, public employees have been on the front lines. 

Teachers and school personnel are some of the most important members of our communities. They educate our children, volunteer their time and resources, and work to make a difference every day. This week, we will be honoring the hard work done by teachers and school personnel across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

School workers become ‘emergency responders’ in D.C. communities hit hard by the pandemic by Debbie Truong. Schools across Washington, D.C. have always been community hubs: they’re often places where the community votes, they attend free events, and families turn to their schools when they are in need. As students switched to full-time virtual learning in the city, teachers and school personnel added an important step to their daily routines: checking on their students’ mental health and well-being. According to Truong of WAMU, students attending virtual classes were all screened individually to ensure that they and their families are doing well. If not, school staff provides families with connections to community organizations that can help. Beth Dewhurst, a reading intervention teacher at Stuart-Hobson Middle School in Northeast, takes an extra step. She begins each virtual class with a “mindfulness minute” which brings students ease at a time when they are separated from their classmates.  “They’re struggling with that loss, that cascading loss,” Dewhurst said. “There’s new things they’re not getting to do.”

Valley Marine, designer and teacher sew masks around the nation by Matthew Wilson. At the start of the pandemic, Dallas-area special education teacher Ruben Caceres went the extra mile to ensure his students were protected. Wilson reports that after borrowing $80 from his mother, he bought the supplies needed to make masks for all of his students. “I’m a special education teacher, so I work with kids that are severely disabled and medically fragile. All my kids are non-verbal, for some we have to do little medical procedures everyday with them. Most of them are wheelchair bound. Sometimes they’re the last ones people think about, and I wanted to do something for them because I can’t see them physically now,” said Caceres. “I wanted to make them masks so if their parents wanted to take them out on a stroll in the neighborhood or to a park or anywhere, they would have some protection.” After making masks for his students, Caceres has continued to make masks for other special needs children in his school district. 

Woman of the Year: ‘Unstoppable’ Mama D won’t stop feeding homeless because of pandemic by Maggie Quinlan. After teaching for 46 years at Finch Elementary School in Spokane, Washington, Betty ‘Mama D’ Dumas has not stopped giving back to her community. Before the pandemic hit, Dumas volunteered for ten years at the soup kitchen at her church to make sure her community was fed. According to Quinlan, since the church soup kitchen is now closed due to the pandemic, she, her son, and other volunteers have been preparing 100 meals a week to feed the homeless with their own money. Setting up in a Goodwill parking lot, Dumas writes a personal message to all of her “honored guests.” “When I ride around this town and I look at people, that’s somebody’s child, somebody’s daddy, somebody’s mother. You put yourself in their shoes and say, ‘Wow.’ ” Dumas said. “You’ve got to look at it through God’s eyes. You can’t look at it through our natural eyes. You have to look from the heart.”

Be sure to check back next week for more stories of public employees giving back to their communities!