Categories: Our Wisconsin

‘Lessening the Load’ Connects Healthcare Workers With Volunteers Willing to Provide Meals, Run Errands

Eau Claire teacher creates Facebook signup page to help healthcare workers after reading about their exhausting, challenging working conditions during the pandemic.

With each news report she read or listened to about climbing coronavirus cases, with every conversation with friends about the heavy impact of the virus that has significantly altered life as we know it, Tiffany Leighton-Giffey felt her fear and frustration mounting. 

As a speech therapist at Longfellow Elementary School in Eau Claire, Leighton-Giffey knows firsthand how COVID-19 has changed the world around her. Instead of meeting with students in the classroom, she is teaching them virtually as her school district suspended in-person instruction last month because of a high number of cases in the community. At the same time, she is helping her two children with their own online coursework. 

She had seen local news stories in recent weeks detailing how hospitals in the Eau Claire area were overwhelmed with patients as the virus surged through the community. 

Then she read a Nov. 29 story in the Washington Post detailing how healthcare workers in her city were struggling amid waves of COVID-19 patients. It served as a breaking point, she said. 

Tiffany Leighton-Giffey of Eau Claire has started an effort titled “Lessening the Load” in which people volunteer to help healthcare workers who are dealing with challenging work conditions amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Tiffany Leighton-Giffey)

“I was feeling so helpless and so angry,” Leighton-Giffey said. “I saw how these medical professionals were working such long hours in such challenging conditions, dealing with so much sickness and death. I started crying. I was like ‘what can we do?’ ” 

Leighton-Giffey decided to take action. Late Tuesday evening, she created a Facebook post intended to provide a helping hand to medical workers in need of support. Her idea for the endeavor she titled “Lessening the Load” is to link people working in the medical field with volunteers who could help them by performing such tasks as making meals, running errands, or removing snow from driveways and sidewalks. 

Ten minutes after her post, Leighton-Giffey received her first volunteer ready to help. One day later 24 people had signed up to help healthcare workers in a variety of ways, and more are offering to assist by the hour. 

Some people have volunteered to purchase gift cards for those employees, some to make food, and many have offered to do a variety of tasks to help in whatever ways they can, such as walking a dog. 

“When I set this up, I thought I might get a couple of friends to help out with it,” Leighton-Giffey said. “I never thought it would turn into something like this, but I’m happy to see that happening.” 

When Jennifer Hafele saw Leighton-Giffey’s post, she immediately volunteered to make a meal for a medical worker and his/her family. After hearing stories of the difficulties healthcare workers face amid a surge of coronavirus cases and with predictions of another case spike coming, Hafele felt compelled to do her part to help. 

“As soon as I saw this, I knew it was something I had to sign up for,” Hafele said. “The demands on our healthcare workers are so great. If we can spread that load out, take some of that pressure off of them, that is what we should do.”  

Lessening the Load isn’t meant only for nurses, Leighton-Giffey said, but for anyone, from certified nursing assistants to housekeeping and food service workers to administrators who work in medical settings. 

To track volunteers and those requesting assistance, she created an online document where people can sign up. Links to volunteer to help medical professionals and for medical workers to seek assistance are at Leighton-Giffey’s Facebook page on her Lessening the Load post. People interested in giving or receiving help can also email Leighton-Giffey at tiffanyleighton@hotmail.com.

Michelle Willcutt, a registered nurse at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire who works in an intensive care unit there, said she and other medical personnel are especially grateful for Leighton-Giffey’s effort and the help of community members at a time when they are run down and overwhelmed.

After dealing with so much illness and death on the job, and meeting the needs of their families at home, medical workers may lack the energy or time to take care of normal daily tasks, she said.  

Marshfield Clinic Health System medical personnel treat a critically ill COVID-19 patient after the patient was flown to Marshfield Clinic’s Eau Claire hospital. Marshfield Clinic and most other hospitals in northwest Wisconsin are near or at capacity as they prepare for another expected surge of COVID-19 patients in upcoming weeks. (Photo courtesy of Marshfield Clinic Health System-Eau Claire)

“Honestly, we are tired… mentally, emotionally, and physically drained,” Willcutt said. “This gesture is like the community saying ‘we get what you do and we appreciate you.’ I think these ideas are wonderful and would be welcomed by medical personnel.” 

That sentiment is exactly what Leighton-Giffey is hoping for. She sees Lessening the Load not only as a means of helping healthcare staff get through troubled times a bit easier, but as a way for the community to come together to do good during an especially tough time.

“Our community needs to step up, to help these people who are out there on the frontlines of this pandemic doing so much for us,” she said. “And I’m grateful to see that is already happening.”

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