Almost a year and a half after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, three groups who went above and beyond to keep people fed, safe and connected came together to recognize and reflect on their extraordinary work.
The Gloucester Post Office held a dedication ceremony on Tuesday, Aug. 24, at The Open Door on Emerson Avenue for the forever Thank You stamp, recognizing both The Open Door and We Are All In This Together Gloucester. The kind gesture spoke volumes, due to the fact that Postmaster Anthony Cavallo and his team played a key role amid the pandemic themselves, as essential workers.
Those in attendance included President and CEO LaFontaine, Postmaster Cavallo, Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, Sen. Bruce Tarr, Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, Manchester Postmaster Jessica Gottschalk, Essex Postmaster Tim Russell, Boxford Postmaster Pam DeCosta, Gloucester Post Office representatives, The Open Door staff, and members the We Are All In This Together Gloucester admin team.
“2020 was a year like no other. Due to COVID-19 our lives changed,” Postmaster Cavallo said. “Through it all one thing became evident: concern for one another was at an all-time high and essential workers became heroes. The USPS knows what it means to be essential, to show up when nobody else does and put forth extra effort to make sure that need is met. We would like to take this time to acknowledge the extra effort these two organizations gave when it was needed.”
The Open Door was able to meet a 40% increase in need for food resources at the height of the pandemic, all thanks to a team effort by the community, volunteers and staff. The nonprofit swiftly innovated solutions to unprecedented challenges, and overnight began offering Curbside, No-Contact pick-up for meals and groceries at both its Gloucester and Ipswich pantries. For the first time, The Open Door began delivering meals and groceries to ensure older adults, people with disabilities, those quarantining or in isolation, and those vulnerable to the virus had consistent, free access to good food. Many other adjustments and investments were made, along with countless hours of effort, to support various new programs and services tailored to meet the unique needs brought on by the pandemic.
“Last year as the pandemic raged, many people found themselves using a food pantry for the first time and they traveled down Emerson Avenue just as you did today,” President and CEO LaFontaine said at the ceremony. “With the help of the community, we were able to stay open. We connected nearly 10,000 people to nearly 2.5 million pounds of food –that was work powered by community.”
Mayor Romeo Theken reflected on the significant growth of The Open Door as a community food resource center.
“I don’t know how I would have succeeded as being the Mayor I am today without those two groups during COVID,” Mayor Romeo Theken said. “When I talk about The Open Door… I get so excited because I remember when it first started. And to see where I am standing today and what has expanded – the name is so perfect.”
“It’s an open door,” she added. “It’s welcoming of everyone.”
“It is an amazing thing to have members of the postal service here so that we can say thank you, and in turn, you’re thanking other folks who have been steady, and consistent, and helpful during times that none of us could have envisioned happening in our lives,” Sen. Bruce Tarr said. “The pandemic has taught us in so any ways how much we need each other and that is why it is so important to have this recognition.”
The strength of the community on Cape Ann was a common thread among each speaker at the event.
“What we did during the pandemic is we encouraged a culture of community caring,” said Together Gloucester President Patty Wall. “We are grateful for all the people who helped in big and small ways that helped friends and strangers alike.”
We Are All In This Together Gloucester formed in March 2020 in direct response to COVID-19. The community Facebook group offered a place where people could share what food and household items they needed most, or share tips and resources for those facing hardship. Leaders of the group also partnered with The Open Door to support various events to keep people fed.
Today, leadership of the group have applied for 501(c)(3) status for a nonprofit, Together Gloucester.
Rep. Ferrante praised the courage demonstrated by The Open Door during the uncertainty of the pandemic.
“I am sure there were days you looked at the counts on TV and you saw how much the virus was spreading, and you thought, I just want to stay in bed and not face this today,” Rep. Ferrante said. “And yet every day you found the courage – and it is courage – to say, there are people who need me, and get up. When people were in crisis, none of you blinked or flinched. You just said, this is what we need to do.”
The Open Door President and CEO Julie LaFontaine, left, and We Are All In This Together Gloucester President Patty Wall.
Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken speaks at a stamp dedication ceremony held in honor of The Open Door and We Are All In This Together on Tuesday, Aug. 24 at The Open Door facility on Emerson Avenue.
Sen. Bruce Tarr speaks at the forever Thank You Stamp dedication ceremony.
Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante speaks to the impact of The Open Door, We Are All In This Together Gloucester and the USPS over the course of the pandemic.
Manchester Postmaster Jessica Gottschalk, left, and Gloucester Postmaster Anthony Cavallo unveil the forever “Thank You” stamp art.
Manchester Postmaster Jessica Gottschalk, left, presents framed forever stamp artwork to The Open Door President and CEO Julie LaFontaine, center.