HEROES AMONG US

Written By: Robert Cocuzzo | Photography By: Kit Noble & Brian Sager

When the going gets tough, Nantucketers step up.

Resiliency is in Nantucket’s DNA. This island has always been defined by its ability to come together like few other places in the country and face a challenge. When someone on Nantucket gets knocked down, hands immediately unite to lift them right back up. In the face of the coronavirus, Nantucketers have emerged to fight the pandemic in their own unique ways. On the frontlines, the doctors, nurses, caregivers, administrators and staff at the Nantucket Cottage Hospital have been serving the community with courage and compassion. Town officials have been making complex decisions about how to protect islanders’ livelihoods while also protecting their health. Nonprofit leaders have launched relief funds, teachers have held digital classes, and countless people have made personal sacrifices for the benefit of the community. One islander launched a website— Nantucketneighbor.com—designed explicitly to connect those in need with those who wanted to help. More than a hundred people immediately signed up to volunteer. Indeed, there are so many individuals rising to meet the occasion, showing courage under fire, and representing the best of our community. Here are just some of the everyday Nantucketers who have emerged as heroes in their own ways.

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PATRICK RIDGE & ISLAND KITCHEN
Days before it was announced that all Nantucket Public Schools would be closed, Patrick Ridge took to social media and pledged that his restaurant Island Kitchen would ensure that no child went hungry. He recognized the imminent need of thousands of island kids who depend on school breakfast and lunch each day. “This was right in our wheelhouse,” Ridge recalls thinking. “This is one very small subset of the island’s population that was going to need help and we had the best team and the best infrastructure to do that.”

When the schools closed a few days later, Linda Peterson, who runs the school food program, reached out to Ridge for assistance. “Linda is really the unsung hero in all this,” Ridge says. “She immediately tasked out what she needed and stepped right into a leadership role.” Peterson had the food, but she needed help cooking and distributing the meals. Ridge sent a team of Island Kitchen chefs to help her cook as well as a fleet of food trucks to distribute the meals to hundreds of kids.

As the need has continued to grow, Ridge has received vital support from the Community Foundation of Nantucket to keep the operation running. “There’s never been a better time to step up and try to make an impact,” Ridge says. “Nantucket has been very good to me and my team over the years, and we’re just trying to help in doing what we do best.”

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NATE BARBER & BARBER & SONS
When Nantucket Cottage Hospital’s president Gary Shaw called on the community to start making medical masks, Nate Barber and his family-owned building company responded. After donating all their own gloves and N95 masks to the hospital, the Barbers converted their workshop into a mask-making operation. They turned work benches into sewing stations, sourced materials donated by Weatherly Design and began enlisting sewers.

From morning to night, Barber and his mother sat behind sewing machines making hundreds of masks. His father delivered them to the hospital each day, while his wife Ayesha enlisted more and more sewers through a Facebook group she and Alli Mitchell launched called “Nantucket, Let’s Get Sewing.” Providing instructions on how to make masks, the group gained hundreds of participants, who not only sewed masks for the hospital, but also for local postal workers, airport workers and grocery store clerks. “Now, there’s too many people to name who are making the masks,” Barber says.

While the Barbers may only be a handful of the hundreds of people making masks on the island, their connection to the Nantucket Cottage Hospital is especially personal. “I was born there. My kids were born there. The staff are my colleagues in EMS. My friends work there,” says Barber, who also serves as a Nantucket firefighter alongside his brother. “And Dr. Lepore saved my life when he found my cancer.” Amid this coronavirus crisis, Nate and his father are both fighting cancer, making them all the more vulnerable to the virus.

“I’m blown away by how people are responding during this crisis,” Barber says. “Our doctors, nurses and first responders are showing us their commitment to humankind and their courage in the face of a pandemic. Tradesmen, retailers and landscapers are showing us their sense of responsibility by shutting down their operations for the health of the island residents. People are making masks and hand sanitizers. Businesses are adapting to provide essential services in a safe manner. I feel very proud to be from Nantucket right now.”

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HEATHER FRANCIS & OUR ISLAND HOME
Heather Francis serves as the director of nursing at Our Island Home where caring for Nantucket’s most vulnerable population has raised a whole new set of challenges. With their residents no longer able to have visitors, Francis and her dedicated team moved in to fill the void by helping them connect with family through FaceTime and doubling down on activities to keep them entertained and engaged. “We’re learning so much from our residents,” Francis says, “especially how we can do more with less.”

To minimize the risk of exposure, Our Island Home has kept their staff small each day, which has put more demand on those attending. “I’ve watched directors wash dishes and witnessed aides provide compassionate care consistently,” describes Francis. “The nurses and aides are here 24/7—without a single complaint.”

Francis and her team at Our Island Home are just an example of the many people caring for Nantucket’s elderly population. Whether at Sherburne Commons, The Saltmarsh Senior Center or in hundreds of private residences, caregivers are taking extraordinary measures to serve our most vulnerable population during this most distressing period. “This is a tough time for all, mentally and physically,” says Heather Francis, “but sometimes our greatest struggles bring about our greatest successes.”

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RANDY HUDSON & CISCO BREWERS
While many beer lovers might disagree with him, Randy Hudson admits that he felt a little uneasy about Cisco Brewers being deemed an essential service in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown in Massachusetts. “We’re stocking liquor stores,” he says, “how is that essential?” So seeking some way to help, Hudson took matters into his own hands—quite literally.

“Everywhere is in need of hand sanitizer,” the master distiller says, “so I made my own batch.” Using bulk spirits, Hudson followed the World Health Organization’s recipe to create hand sanitizer for those in the community who need it most. The first batch was given to the fire department and the police station. His second batch went to Myles Reis, for their rubbish removers to have on hand. At press time, Hudson was considering making batches for the Stop & Shops.

Ironically, Hudson spent most of his life railing against the use of hand sanitizer, but given the circumstances, he appreciates its value for those at risk of contacting infected material who might not have immediate access to soap and water. Of course, as one might expect of a world-renowned master distiller, Hudson has improved his recipe for his family’s own batch, adding such elements as citronella aroma therapy drops—a recommendation from his daughter Evelyn, who was busy stitching medical masks at home.

“I’m impressed by our people at Cisco trying to keep things going and keep some semblance of normal,” Hudson says. “But I’m also impressed by places like Bartlett’s and Annye’s Whole Foods who are taking orders that people can pick up. Then there’s the individual stories of people stepping up, bringing food to the elderly. Honestly, when I hear those stories, I feel that I am just not doing enough.”

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Or, THE WHALE & SANDBAR
This time of year, the owners of or, the Whale on Main Street and Sandbar on Jetties Beach would normally be preparing their kitchens for the first wave of Daffodil Festival diners. But when the coronavirus seized the island in late March, owners Nick Nass, Jamie Nass, Chef Manny Rojas, George Kelly and Emily Kelly redirected their efforts to serving a different segment of the island community. Collaborating with Taylor Hilst and Laura Stewart of the Saltmarsh Senior Center, Sandbar and or, The Whale began cooking and delivering dinners to islanders over the age of sixty who don’t qualify for Meals on Wheels.

Each morning, Nick Nass sends menus to Stewart at the Saltmarsh Senior Center, who takes orders that she then sends back to Nass and his team. “We prepare the food by 2PM for packaging and then it’s out the door by between 3:00 and 3:30,” Nass explains. “We’ve been delivering to between thirty and thirty-five homes a day.”

When other members of the restaurant industry heard what Nass and his team were doing, they stepped up to help. Amy Young of The Beet and Chef Erin Zircher of Cru Nantucket have helped cook dinners, while Anna Worgess, Jo Dodd, Todd Billing, Joe Snowey and other restaurant professionals have made deliveries. “We have heard from many other friends in the industry wanting to help,” Nass says. “This powerful feeling of unity has been our inspiration to keep this community connected, safe and healthy.”

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CHEF NEIL FERGUSON & AMERICAN SEASONS
As a lifelong member of the hospitality industry, American Seasons owner Chef Neil Ferguson was looking for a way to serve the many doctors, nurses and hospital staff working so valiantly on the front lines of the coronavirus. “I wanted to do something super positive, kind, caring and friendly,” he says. Yet with his restaurant’s spring opening postponed, Chef Ferguson had to get creative. In the beginning of April, he launched Care for the Carers, a gift drive initiative in which people can buy gift certificates or services from local businesses that Chef Ferguson will then package and ship to the Nantucket Cottage Hospital’s 250-person staff. Businesses themselves could also donate products, gift certificates or services to be included in the gift bags, which Chef Ferguson planned on delivering to the hospital administrators on Mother’s Day to be distributed to each recipient accordingly. “We want to reward everyone there—doctors, nurses and all the teams behind the scenes,” Chef Ferguson says. “I know it will be a significant number, but I think this community can make it happen.”

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ANNYE CAMARA & OUR LOCAL GROCERS
Outside of the Nantucket Cottage Hospital, the frontlines of the coronavirus on the island have been largely at local grocery stores. Every day, the staff of Stop & Shop, Bartlett’s Farm, Nantucket Meat and Fish, and Annye’s Whole Foods have been putting themselves at risk to ensure that islanders have food in their fridge while they shelter in place. “We’ve refined our process,” Annye Camara explains. “My staff are working furiously and empathetically, the food stream to the island is steady, and customers, well, they have been flexible and grateful.” Annye’s as well as Bartlett’s Farm and Nantucket Meat and Fish all introduced curbside pickup, enabling islanders to place orders online or by phone that they can then scoop up from the safety of their vehicles. “As our wonderful Atheneum executive director said in a recent email, ‘previously hidden skill sets are emerging,’” Camara concluded. “We love that!”

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JOY & GREG MARGOLIS OF THE NANTUCKET CULINARY CENTER
From their Corner Table Café downtown, the Nantucket Culinary Center’s Joy and Greg Margolis have always had a unique insight on the comings and goings of the community. With the coronavirus shutting down most island businesses, the husband-and-wife team anticipated that there was going to be a whole new segment of the population who would soon need food assistance for the first time in their lives. “These are teachers, builders and restaurant workers,” Joy said. “They’re people who are a lot less likely to ask for help.”

To meet this quiet need, the Margolises created a confidential order form on their website where islanders can request dinners-for-four free of charge. With the help of a private donor, “The Family Meals” were part of a buy-one, give-one program in which for every meal sold, one was donated to a family in need.

Joy and Greg have also joined a broader reimbursement initiative created by the Community Foundation that encourages nonprofits to partner with local restaurants. Inspired by the partnership between The Saltmarsh Senior Center and or, The Whale, the program enabled non-profits to order pre-made meals for their clientele from restaurants that would then be reimbursed by the Community Foundation’s Nantucket Fund for Emergency Relief. “This will not only benefit different organizations and their demographic,” Joy explains, “but also the restaurants who can then reemploy their employees.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated that the Community Foundation was supporting the Corner Table’s “Family Meals,” which is not the case. The article has also been updated as it relates to the Nantucket Culinary Center’s role in the formation of the Community Foundation’s reimbursement program for restaurants. 

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If you’re inspired to help Nantucket like the heroes in this story, please click here for our N Top Ten list of ways to provide direct relief.

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