Responding to a crisis with busy hands, generous hearts.
Everyone might have been sheltering in place, but their generous spirits were meeting needs throughout the community in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
Indeed, when mandated to stay at home for an unexpectedly long quarantine, members at The Cliffs put free time to good use, outstretching hands that were anything but idle.
At the advent of the global pandemic, scores of ladies across the seven communities at The Cliffs fired up their sewing machines in response to a PPE shortage. A close-knit group at The Cliffs at Walnut Cove, for example, sewed masks and accessory headbands that were distributed to local health care providers and regional nonprofits.
When a neighbor who works at Asheville’s Mission Health System approached Cathy Jooste with an idea to make face masks more comfortable for critical care nurses, she jumped at the opportunity to help. She designed headbands with buttons on each side, to which nurses can attach their protective masks.
Jooste coordinated her efforts with neighbor Jane Seaman, who was also busy sewing masks. Five more members — Sherry Bales, Glenda Daly, Sierra Paturalski, Liz Saylor, and Jean York — joined in, working separately in their own homes but together in spirit, expanding distribution to local medical facilities, a hospice, a veterinary practice, and a homeless shelter.
Their collaboration yielded some 500 masks in all.
“This project had us all thinking of our extended community as we sewed, of stories we saw on TV where people around the world gave of themselves simply to be good and kind to one another during a time when that mattered more than anything else,” recalls Jooste. “We hope the good that came out of this pandemic — the impulse to help our fellow human beings— remains long after the memories of all that was so bad.”
Meanwhile Nancy Delph, a member at The Cliffs at Keowee Vineyards, was likewise sewing masks for loved ones near and far. She fashioned facemasks with pockets for filters, sending batches to a niece who works as an ICU nurse in California and a friend who works in an emergency room in Wisconsin. Closest to Delph’s heart are the protective masks she sewed for the NICU nurses who were caring for her grandson.
“It’s been so satisfying knowing there’s a tangible way that I can help during a national crisis,” Delph says, “and that I literally could help protect my family.”
A Hunger to Serve
Across the country, the pandemic created a spike in unemployment, leading to an exponential increase in the number of people requiring food assistance.
“The increase in people applying for [food] aid skyrocketed 400%,” reports Marlene Champagne, a member at The Cliffs at Walnut Cove who coordinates the volunteer helpline for MANNA FoodBank in Western North Carolina.
In normal times, Champagne manages on-site volunteer outreach, helping those in need apply for aid and traveling to locations where MANNA sends food trucks. COVID-19 changed that, requiring the team to work remotely to help people access food stamp assistance, goods from pantries, and other resources. Champagne credits the volunteer efforts of her Walnut Cove neighbors Sierra Paturalski and Barbara Orr with helping MANNA continue its outreach from afar.
“I’ve done a lot of things, had an Army career, been a teacher, but … there’s nothing more rewarding than helping somebody who’s really hurting and suffering, and bringing them to a better place,” says Champagne.
Warren Nesbitt, a member at The Cliffs at Keowee Vineyards, has long been a Meals on Wheels volunteer, delivering every Monday and any fifth Friday to a route in Pickens County. To minimize contact and maintain social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, Meals on Wheels reduced its delivery days from five to two. Drop-offs doubled-up, with volunteers like Nesbitt delivering a hot meal for today and a frozen one for tomorrow.
Putting in a little extra effort for Meals on Wheels is nothing new for Nesbitt. He and his wife hold an annual food drive for the organization, collecting boxes of food from their Keowee Vineyards neighbors and distributing the bounty in early January.
“People are just blown away when we give them their regular Meals on Wheels bag, then we bring in a big box of other stuff,” Warren notes. “Whatever it takes is what we’re happy to do.”
“We moved fast to identify nonprofits whose core mission is providing food, shelter, and other basic needs, and invited them to apply for grants.” — KAREN SPACEK, WALNUT COVE MEMBERS ASSOCIATION
Grants for Good
Alongside individual efforts in response to the coronavirus crisis, philanthropic organizations at The Cliffs executed large-scale fundraising campaigns.
The Walnut Cove Members Association, which typically awards grants at the end of each year, pivoted — fast and effectively — to support nonprofits on the frontline of COVID-19 outreach.
“In early March, we created the Coronavirus Emergency Grant Fund to address immediate needs within Western North Carolina,” says Karen Spacek, who heads WCMA, a nonprofit founded in 2007 by Walnut Cove members who wanted to pool their resources to benefit area charities. “We moved fast to identify nonprofits whose core mission is providing food, shelter, and other basic needs, and invited them to apply for grants.”
WCMA took $50,000 in collected dues to seed the coronavirus fund, then raised an additional $107,000 via contributions from more than 70 of its members. At the end of April, the association granted a total of $157,000 to 10 organizations taking a holistic approach to getting aid to those in need during the pandemic.
Turnaround time from start to finish: six weeks.
As members at The Cliffs reached out to their local communities, club management and staff reached out to them. Creative ways of catering to members while social distancing include fitness videos by the wellness team, online skills training resources from golf pros, remote cooking demos with club chefs, and extended carryout service — plus groceries — from F&B teams. Golf courses remained open. Some scheduled social events were revised, rather than canceled; a four-course progressive dinner at The Cliffs at Keowee Vineyards, for example, turned into a special meal delivery straight to members’ doors.
Rob Duckett, President at The Cliffs, is proud of the work put in to maintain continuity during the pandemic.
“Even those whose jobs changed kept busy,” he says, noting that The Cliffs took advantage of any downtime to make facility improvements and added staff to help with the springtime ramp up for the golf season.
Taylor Edwards is among the hires. His hours at his previous employer had been cut in half due to coronavirus circumstances, and he accepted The Cliffs’ offer of part-time facility maintenance work.
“Being able to work at The Cliffs was a big deal to me,” says Edwards, whose wife, Suzie, is the Member Services Director at The Cliffs at Mountain Park. “When everyone else was saying ‘We can’t afford to keep people on,’ The Cliffs was telling their employees, ‘Not only are we going to keep operating, but we’re here to help your families, too.’”
To the South Street Partners leadership team, this kindhearted attitude is only natural. “We are a community, and one of our top priorities culturally is that we care for each other,” Duckett says. “Our goal is to take care of everybody and to make sure that we come together to get through this crisis as healthy as possible.”
Members echo his sentiment. “It’s unbelievable to have the privilege of living [at The Cliffs],” says MANNA FoodBank’s Marlene Champagne, “and so I think it is incumbent upon those of us who have been so blessed to give back.”
Making a Difference: WCMA Coronavirus Emergency Grant Fund
The Walnut Cove Members Association established the Coronavirus Emergency Grant Fund to quickly identify and support nonprofits on the frontline of COVID-19 outreach in Asheville, North Carolina. Recipients of the fund’s $157,000 in grants include:
• A-B Tech Foundation (housing security, living expenses, education/job training)
• Children’s Welfare League (food) • Church of the Advocate/Red Door Homeless Program (food)
• Eblen Charities (food, housing security, living expenses)
• Four Seasons Hospice (health and welfare)
• Haywood Street Congregation (food, homeless services, shelter)
• Homeward Bound of WNC (homeless services, basic needs)
• MANNA FoodBank (food)
• St. Vincent DePaul Society/St. Barnabas (food, essential family services, diapers)
• YMCA of WNC (food, essential family services, childcare)
This story was featured in Cliffs Living magazine. To read more stories like this one and learn more about The Cliffs, subscribe here.