Meet the frontline heroes of the coronavirus pandemic

People around the country sent submissions nominating their frontline heroes, and why they are grateful for them. Here are some of their stories.

Chris and Suzie Kraft, Parents and Business Owners

10-year-old Riley Kraft’s frontline heroes are his parents Chris and Suzie Kraft, who own a meat locker business in Ruthven, Iowa.

“My parents have not stopped working since the pandemic started. They work hard and farmers needed them,” he said.

Riley says it wasn’t even an option for his parents to shut down their business during the pandemic. They knew farmers needed to sell their livestock and Americans needed reasonably priced meat. As a family business, everyone at the meat locker is treated as such, and in a state that doesn’t have mask mandates, the Krafts have had to set their own regulations to keep everyone safe.

On top of making sure their employees had comfortable masks to stay protected, Chris and Suzie gave everyone bonus pay for working so hard.

With no questions asked, meat bundles were given out to people who needed the help, and when other small businesses temporarily closed, the Krafts bought gift cards to help out.

Riley’s father Chris gets up before everyone and doesn’t go to bed until the job is done. It’s rough work and he gets up and helps the community every day and doesn’t complain.

Riley says, “My parents are my heroes. And they should be told that by the community too. They’re so amazing. And our meat is really good too.”

Evan Smith, Mortician and Funeral Director

Joyce Smith’s frontline hero is her 40-year-old son Evan Smith, who founded and runs his own funeral services business.

As a funeral director, he comes face to face with the deadly cost of the pandemic day in and day out.

“He compassionately meets with grieving families and must take all of the necessary precautions that are required of frontline workers to be safe when caring for a deceased loved one,” writes Joyce.

She applauds Evan and others in his profession “for the very difficult undertaking of helping families through their pain which comes with greater challenges during COVID.”

Vivian Helton, Convenience Store Cashier

Mandy Mason’s frontline hero is her mother-in-law, Vivian Helton. Vivian is a 71-year-old cashier at The Handy Stop convenience store and gas station in Wilburton, Oklahoma, who has worked all throughout the pandemic.

Vivian is diabetic, has asthma, neuropathy and some other health issues but none of that has stopped her from greeting customers with a smile for more than 10 years. She is also a single parent to her great-nieces, who are now ages 13 and 15.

“They came to her as young children from a bad situation, she took them in no questions asked and they have since flourished in sports, church and girl scouts. Vivian, ‘Aunt Bee’ as they call her, supports them solely, in all they do,” writes Mason.

In response to her daughter-in-law’s praise, Vivian says, “I’m not a hero. I’m doing what everybody else would do. I’m doing what thousands of people around this country [do].”

Sandy Sanders, Special Needs Teacher

The Teed family’s frontline hero is special needs art teacher Sandy Sanders. Among Sandy’s students is 34-year-old Ryan Teed who has Down syndrome.

“The pandemic has had a real impact on people with special needs and trying to process what’s going on in the world, ” says Ryan’s mom.

At a time when so many students are struggling with virtual learning, Sanders is able to cultivate a real connection and bond through Zoom. Students like Ryan reach out to Sandy on their bad days and she’s always willing to listen and talk about what’s going on.

His mom says, “Ryan has learned a better way to cope with feelings of being so isolated during the pandemic.

Ryan’s sister added, “It’s just, it’s nice to know that there’s people like Sandy out there.”

Melissa Garibaldi, Elementary School Teacher

Mike Tavella’s frontline hero is his fiancé, Melissa Garibaldi, a fifth grade teacher at Gardiners Avenue Elementary School in Levittown, New York.

Throughout the pandemic, Melissa’s passion and dedication for her school and her students have been nothing short of astounding.

“The workday does not stop for her when the students leave. She makes herself available for her students even after school hours, when it is convenient for them. She has provided virtual extra help via Google Meet, and put her own dinner on hold to help her students,” Tavella writes.

He says he and Melissa were planning on getting married this past July, but plans were put on hold due to the pandemic. As a fellow teacher, Tavella hopes he can be as inspirational to his students as Melissa has been to him.

Jerry Jacino, UPS Delivery Driver

Beni DeSimone’s frontline hero is her fiancé Jerry Jacino, who works for UPS.

Jerry never complains as he delivers packages to the community. He even goes above and beyond his job requirements and takes the time to really listen and talk to the people he meets along his route.

Beni is thankful that during such a hard time, the community gets to have Jerry’s friendly personality to brighten their day, just as he does for his family back home. While Beni focuses on homeschooling their three children, Jerry proudly makes sure his family is taken care of, which includes making sure the bills are paid, food is on the table, kids have what they need, and paying for the wedding expenses.

His kids — Nyla, Romeo and Daniel — are very thankful for their superhero dad in brown.

Jeffrey Blaisdell and Colt Albert, Truck Drivers

Jacki Albert’s frontline heroes are her two sons, Jeffrey Blaisdell and Colt Albert. They both drive semi-trailer trucks, operating across different regions of the country, directly impacting several communities.

Jeff has delivered food products and Colt has transported COVID-19 supplies from Texas to Kentucky. Their paths rarely cross, but one day mid-pandemic, they met on the road and documented the occasion by posing for a selfie featuring masks made by Mom.

“They are wonderful examples of frontline heroes, mainly because they continue to work this whole time and they, with taking proper precautions, they have stayed healthy this whole time,” says their mom Jacki.

Dr. Peter Lee, Emergency Room Physician

Anna Lee’s frontline hero is her brother Dr. Peter Lee, an emergency room doctor in Montville, New Jersey.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, hate crimes and prejudice against Asian-Americans have surged. Despite that, Dr. Lee, a Chinese-American, not only worked around the clock to treat COVID-19 patients, but he also ran a community PPE drive to get the much-needed face masks and gowns for his coworkers and for other hospitals at the height of the pandemic.

Within days, 10,000 masks, gowns, and other pieces of equipment were provided.

Lydia Fernandez, Registered Dietician

Molly Bremer’s frontline hero is her best friend, Lydia Fernandez, a registered dietician at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.

Lydia provides tube feeding and nutrition support for ICU and cardiology patients, and has been working tirelessly and through the holidays, without time off.

Molly says, “She’s a superstar and I appreciate, and I’m sure her patients appreciate, everything that she’s done throughout this pandemic.”

Sarah Yoder, Nurse

Emily Yoder’s frontline hero is her mother, Sarah Yoder, who is a nurse at one of the ICU units at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis in Wichita, Kansas.

Emily, who is also a frontline worker at Walmart, writes, “She has been working on the Frontline of this pandemic since it has started. Her Unit was one of the first ones to go full covid. Right now in Kansas the cases are rising more than ever before and my heart breaks for her because she is so overworked and exhausted.”

As Sarah cares for patients with COVID-19 at the hospital, Emily worries about her risk while she works in retail.

“She is a true hero and I feel her pain when she gets upset when no one takes the virus seriously. She has seen more than most and truly deserves a shout out,” writes Emily.

Christie Graziano, Nurse Practitioner

Nancy McLaughlin’s frontline hero is her daughter, Christie Graziano, who works in the ICU department as a nurse practitioner at a West Michigan hospital. During the pandemic, Graziano specifically works with COVID-19 patients.

“The heroism it takes for her to report to work for a 5-6 day work rotation, 12 hours per shift, put on 3 layers of PPE, and compassionately and effectively care for the sickest of the sick, well, I cannot even imagine,” writes her daughter Nancy.

Christie has a fiancé who is also a nurse, and they have two daughters, ages 14 and 10.

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