Vergennes-area leaders fill protective gear holes, coordinate mental health and other efforts

VERGENNES — Obtaining enough protective gear for first responders, police and volunteers, and offering help for the psychological well-being of local residents were focal points of the latest online meeting of municipal, school and nonprofit officials from Vergennes, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Waltham and New Haven on Friday morning.
The meeting, attended by two dozen, was the latest in a series begun by city officials that have been increasingly embraced by their neighbors in order to coordinate responses, resources and messaging to residents during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Vergennes City Manager Dan Hofman said he had ordered 2,000 masks at $3 apiece from a Virginia firm, adding to his report from earlier in the week he had been able to order hand sanitizer from a New Hampshire company.
In the meantime, others reported their supplies were fair at best.
Bill Wager of the Ferrisburgh Fire Department said his department was sharing a cache of 265 masks with other area agencies, but hoped for more soon. He added although the department was not ideally stocked in hand sanitizer, it was “in OK shape” there.
Josh Deppman from the Vergennes Area Rescue Squad, or VARS, said for most calls only two responders went out, and both typically wore full disposable gowns and eye protection as well as masks.
VARS is running low on those gowns, Deppman said, and could use more masks and disinfectant wipes, although it had a reasonable supply of hand sanitizer.
Deppman described morale as good: “We’re in good spirits, ready to serve.” 
Waltham Town Clerk Mary Ann Castimore, the coordinator of the city-area food shelf, made a plea for at least 10-20 facemasks to help protect volunteers operating the food shelf. Food distribution is taking place in part from a trailer set up at the city police station and donated by the Ferrisburgh Fire Department.
Hofman said the city could help when the Virginia shipment came in, and in the meantime he would speak to Police Chief George Merkel, although he noted the department was down to about 200 masks.
Later in the day a tip from Julie Basol from the Vergennes Partnership paid off. Hofman sent out an email that local resident Evan Ross would work to obtain masks and hand sanitizer from what Hofman called “unorthodox sources, such as wood workers, contractors, hair salons, etc.”
On a larger level, Rep. Matt Birong, D-Vergennes, described dysfunction in the supply chain for masks and sanitizer. He said without a firm hand on the federal tiller, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, states and municipalities were finding themselves bidding against one another for masks, sanitizer and even coronavirus test kits.
“It’s just the really sad state of affairs we’re in right now,” Birong said. 

Many were concerned about the psychological state of local residents, especially after Thursday’s announcement that Vermont schools would not re-open. Several noted negativity and unhappiness on social media on Thursday evening, including Ferrisburgh Selectboard Chairwoman Jessica James.
“We really, really should be focusing our resources on mental health,” James said.
United Way of Addison County (UWAC) Executive Director Helena Van Voorst said school districts could work with the UWAC prevention team to help set up programs, and she said individuals could dial 2-1-1 (or 1-866-652-4636, the 2-1-1 alternate number) for direct personal help.
“Then you can get a person on the phone,” Van Voorst said.
A full list of resources is available at
Those in need of a helping hand because of financial distress, homelessness, hunger, job loss, healthcare related issues, transportation or more can also contact UWAC and get help through its new partnership with Addison County Mutual Aid (contact Trish Lafayette at [email protected] or 802-349-7210).
Waltham’s Liz Ryan said contact numbers for those seeking help from organizations such as the Counseling Service of Addison County should be placed on the city and town websites.
After a suggestion from Julie Basol of the Vergennes Partnership, city officials said they could also provide contact information for local religious leaders.
As well as promoting the availability of help, Rep. Birong said area leaders should also do their best to model a positive attitude.
“We have to keep our spirits and emotions up as much as possible.”
In other business, the COVID-19 response group:
• Heard from Hofman that Vergennes City Hall is closed to all in-person business, although a drop-box is now in place, and one employee will be on duty to handle mail and phone calls.
Hofman also said city police are keeping an eye on Shaw’s Supermarket in response to what he said was “some concern around the state” about disputes breaking out in grocery stores. 
• Were assured by Addison Northwest School District Board Chairman John Stroup that families in need would continue to receive meals along school bus routes, and that the district would be well prepared to offer home education for the balance of the school year. 
• Heard from Hofman that the city was doing all it could to get the message out — including placing a sandwich board outside city hall — that residents should not flush wipes or any other products except toilet paper down toilets. Other products could clog sewer mains or pump stations.
• Heard from Vergennes Mayor Jeff Fritz, also the chairman of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes, that that organization’s food delivery efforts have gone well, with meals being prepared by Bar Antidote and packaged at the United Methodist Church of Vergennes.
The club’s meals program as of midweek had delivered more than 2,300 meals. Among the help the club has received is a $1,000 donation from the owner of the Small City Market, Fritz said. 
• Were told by Birong that his Legislative committee was working on stalling renter evictions for 90 days, and he had discussed with U.S. Rep. Peter Welch’s office a measure that would suspend mortgage payments for three months.

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