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.  

Here are stories of public employees in service to their communities.

Shlenker School’s bear hugs bring comfort to children in crisis by Judy Bluestein-Levin. For the last 24 years, students at the Shlenker School in Houston have been providing teddy bears to firefighters from Station 68, so they can give them to children being transported in a time of crisis. This year, in return for the donation, firefighters came to the school to pick up the bears with a ladder truck and showed students all sorts of firefighter gear. Second-grade teacher Elizabeth Hooper commented on the over two-decade-old project, “I think it’s just nice, that in a year when everything looks different, it’s lovely when you have something stay the same.”

Sterling Heights police provide compassionate care with COMEBACK Quick Response Team by Eric Czarnik. At the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, many helpful programs were rolled back to focus on the pandemic, but not for the Sterling Heights Police Department (SHPD). In February 2020, SHPD partnered with a local nonprofit, Families Against Narcotics (FAN), to battle opioid addiction in their community. The COMEBACK Quick Response Team is a three-member unit that responds to homes within 72 hours when nonfatal drug overdoses occur. The team, made up of a police officer, a certified peer recovery coach, and a certified family recovery coach, meets with the families, provides helpful information, and support services. Sterling Heights Police Lt. Mario Bastianelli commented, “The fact that our team is making house calls is huge for its success because we are literally bringing free resources to your door. It makes it a lot easier to want to get help.” The program has been so successful that 15 other police agencies have developed similar programs. Linda Davis, Executive Director of FAN, commented, “The opioid crisis may not be in the news as much lately, but it is definitely not going away. In fact, the COVID pandemic — which shifted attention away from the opioid pandemic — has caused drug use and overdose numbers to rise sharply. The isolation of COVID has been so difficult for people with a substance use disorder and for many people in recovery. Not being able to connect with people face to face has really caused people to struggle, and the numbers prove that.”

If you or a loved one struggles with opioid abuse, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration Help Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP.

Big Lake Elementary continues tradition of raising money for American Heart Association by Kera Wanielista. For the last 21 years, Big Lake Elementary in Washington has taken part in the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Kid’s Heart Challenge. The fundraiser is kicked off by students receiving a presentation from AHA staff on heart health and healthy living. Along with the presentation and activities, students raise money for AHA, and the top fundraisers get to pie their teachers in the face. Even with the pandemic, students and staff raised $10,000 – the most they have ever raised by the school in the last two decades. Physical education teacher Matt Holmes said, “The donations just kept pouring in. It’s beautiful to see. People are still wanting to give and help.” Although assemblies are on hold and classroom sizes are reduced due to the pandemic, the top fundraiser, third-grader Henry Adams, still had the opportunity to pie several kindergarten teachers in the face. 

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