Children were delighted to wave and say hello to the Easter Bunny, who greeted them alongside military volunteer reserve and other servicemen and women among those deployed throughout the state to help with lifesaving efforts as coronavirus cases spread.
Thursday was the only chance for these children to see the Easter Bunny, said Gen. Gerald E. McDonald Jr., assistant adjutant general of the Connecticut Air National Guard.
Children’s calls of “happy Easter” and “bye, bye” filled the air as little ones in the back seats peered from car windows to catch a glimpse of the familiar giant, white rabbit with a big belly. Kim Hoffman, family support coordinator for the Guard, donned the bunny costume for the occasion.
“This is a small way for us to demonstrate our appreciation because they are without their military members for an extended period of time,” said McDonald, who is responsible for the 1,200 Air National Guard members that make up its operational and support units.
Guardsmen are delivering PPEs and medical equipment, setting up field hospital units, such as the one at Middlesex Hospital in Middletown, and performing other crucial tasks to help alleviate some of the stresses endured by medical personnel during the coronavirus pandemic. Those not deployed work as long as 12-hour days, McDonald said.
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz also was on hand for the event, which ran from 10 a.m. to noon, spreading cheer and recording holiday greetings to Guard families whose loved ones are on the front lines of the pandemic.
Volunteers prepared enough goodies for 101 families.
“If Munson’s hadn’t given us this donation, we probably wouldn’t have been able to do anything for Easter for folks who can’t come to our facilities right now,” Hoffman said.
She and her family plan to conduct a Zoom call on Easter. “I care for my elderly mother, so we really can’t afford to have anyone over,” due to coronavirus fears. Her husband, who normally works in Japan, is home with her. “It’ll be different to have a holiday with him around.”
Hoffman is also involved in the unit’s efforts on behalf of Operation Elf during the holidays. The project provides support to military families enduring the hardship of separation, according to its website.
“This is super generous of Munson’s. Hopefully, people will know we are thinking about them and we wish we could be together,” she said. Volunteers were thrilled to jump on board the project as it provided a chance for them to get out of the house, with many currently working from home.
The traditional Easter celebration involves a large Saturday breakfast attended by about 600 individuals. It was canceled due to the virus.
“They have hundreds of kids, bouncy houses. They give out bicycles and giant stuffed animals,” Bysiewicz said.
Local recruiter Jose Quinones of Meriden stopped by on foot with his 2-year-old son, Santiago Greyson, prompting cries of “He’s so cute!” from volunteers. Both posed for a photo with the Easter Bunny.
Quinones has been able to work remotely, much like people around the nation heeding social distancing guidelines during the pandemic. It has afforded him more time with his immediate family. “Our commander is allowing us to work from home if we need to,” he explained.
Kelly Strba, director of the service members and families support center, brought along staff from the child and youth team, and family assistance workers, who work with service members readying for deployment.
“Now that we are putting more service members in the hospitals, families are concerned. They’re out in heavily populated areas and they’re afraid,” Strba said. Folks understand the sacrifices made by their loved ones — but that makes the separation no easier.
“When it comes down to brass tacks, though, you’re still a person who is susceptible.” There has been a lot of financial stress, she acknowledged, although many have stepped up to help.
Normally, staff rely on corps volunteers, but that’s not a resource they can use presently due to health and safety concerns.
Bysiewicz has seen countless people struggling to meete day-to-day needs as she moves around the state attending events such as these. She said “3,200 people filing for unemployment is catastrophic.”
“Yesterday, I saw what I think is equivalent to the bread lines of the 1930s” at the regional food market in Hartford, she said.
She was there to accept a donation of $40,000 worth of dairy products for Connecticut Food Share. There were 500 cars waiting to pick up small bags of produce, for an hour of more, Bysiewicz said.
“I’ve never seen anything like that. You could tell by the different types of cars that every segment of our state has been affected. It was heartbreaking,” shez said. “The good news is the people of Connecticut are very generous,” she added.
She urges people who want to help to consider donating blood to the American Red Cross as the need is great.
© 2020 The Middletown Press
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