On any given day, Capt. Rick Stitely and the firefighters and paramedics at Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services Station 31 may be called upon to make the short drive down New Design Road to Spring Arbor Senior Living for an emergency call.

But on Tuesday afternoon, staff and residents of Spring Arbor gathered outside to welcome members of Station 31 and deputies with the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office to their grounds to offer a free bagged lunch and to thank them for their efforts on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We always enjoy anytime we can get out and interact with the community,” Stitely said. “It’s always what we enjoy doing. Especially, you know, we [usually] come here on different circumstances.”

Stitely said they do receive food at the station from well-wishers from time to time, but the invite to come to Spring Arbor and grab a lunch with a backdrop of waving residents holding handmade signs of support for their service to the community was a first for him.

“Unfortunately, we can’t walk around and meet people [because of] COVID,” he said. “But just being out here with them seeing us in a different light; seeing them ... when it’s not their emergencies is a lot better.”

“Obviously we see people at their worst,” he said. “And when we can talk to them ... in a good way, we love to hear from them.”

Peter Vigliotti, food service director at Spring Arbor, was delighted by the idea of being able to offer a free lunch to first responders, who, like residents and staff of assisted living facilities have been in higher-risk situations during the pandemic.

“I thought it was great because they service us and they do … a lot of good things for us,” he said. “When we need them, … they’re here. So I thought it was a wonderful gesture.”

The lunches consisted of either a turkey or roast beef sandwich, chips, water and a fresh-baked cookie.

Pamm Dalton, Spring Arbor’s sales and marketing director, said she organized the event not just to give thanks to the first responders but also to brighten the spirits of the facility’s residents.

“I’m not going to lie,” she said. “[the pandemic has] been very hard on the residents and their families.”

Dalton said residents, many of whom spent some of their activity time adorning white placards with stickers and handwritten notes, were excited to gather outside and see the members of Station 31 roll up in an ambulance for something other than an emergency.

“We thought it’d be a nice opportunity to let our residents show how much they appreciate [the first responders,]” she said.

Before Tuesday’s event, one of the biggest boosts in morale came from being able to reopen Spring Arbor’s dining facility so residents didn’t have to eat all three meals in their rooms.

Precautions put in place after COVID-19 found its way into countless nursing homes and assisted living facilities around the country have been incredibly isolating for seniors in such care facilities.

Dalton said residents of the assisted living side of such facilities understand the need for all the precautions. But she said she worries that those on the memory loss units might think that they’ve been abandoned by their families, which is not the case.

“You also have to think about the well being, mental well being of the residents,” Dalton said.

It’s only this week that Spring Arbor has been able to welcome visitors into the facility, albeit with strict social distancing and sanitation measures in place.

“It’s a natural thing to want to hug your mom and see your mom,” she said. “So it’s been tough.”

Dalton said she hopes to repeat the event in the future and make it available to other rescue stations that respond to the facility when called upon.

“We want to take an opportunity to do something positive in the community and show our support for everything that they’ve done for us,” she said. “It’s a morale booster, for sure.”

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