When the local story detailing the way she spearheaded the establishment of a Mary Washington Hospital Associate Team Pantry published in early August, Stacy Mason found herself caught in a whirl of publicity.
The ICU nurse, who’s often found herself at the forefront of caring for patients with COVID-19, said the rush of attention caught her by surprise.
“I never thought it would really get more attention. I was just doing it for associates and friends and coworkers,” not for any acclaim, said the married mother of two, who lives in Fauquier County. “It took off to such a level, nationally and internationally.”
Mason had come up with the idea of creating a “donate what you can, take what you need” pantry at the Fredericksburg hospital early in the pandemic, when ICU staffers had problems finding items they needed at stores. Eventually, she said, news coverage of the effort faded.
At least it had, until staffers at the syndicated “Rachael Ray” talk show got in touch with Mason and Mary Washington Hospital officials to say that the show was interested in featuring the nurse. They said the show was celebrating people making a difference in their communities in the run-up to the holidays in a segment called “The Nice List,” and wanted to include Mason.
It would turn out to be nice, to the tune of a $10,000, with the Rachael Ray-sponsor Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day ponying up a donation in that amount, as well as the promise of 1,000 units of its cleaning products, both of which will help to keep the pantry thriving.
The 32-year-old nurse, who’s still heading up the effort to keep what’s alternately called the associates or team pantry stocked, said the segment came together quickly. First, there were meetings with a field producer, then video was shot and, eventually, Mason talked directly with Ray in a Zoom call.
In the segment, which aired nationally Dec. 15, the bubbly host began by asking Mason how she and her family were doing, and telling the front-line hospital worker how much she appreciated all the work she and her fellow health care workers are doing.
Mason explained how and why the pantry was started, and how eventually she sought permission to extend the idea beyond just the intensive care unit to the entire Mary Washington Healthcare system. There are now program-linked pantries at Mary Washington Hospital, Stafford Hospital and at the corporate center at Fall Hill.
“I thought, if we can do this in an intensive care setting of 70-something staff members, we can do this as a whole health care system,” Mason said. “It functions very much like a lending library, so we ask that you take what you need, no questions asked. And if you are able to donate, you donate what you can.”
Soon after that, Ray delivered the news not previously shared, that show sponsor Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day would be donating a check for $10,000 and 1,000 units of cleaning supplies to the hospital/pantry. The cleaning supplies will include hand soap, dish soap, multisurface cleaner and hand lotion.
Mason said she initially didn’t understand the fact that the 10,000 Ray mentioned was dollars and not cleaning products, both of which she is thrilled for the pantry to receive.
She said some of that confusion was due to being a little starstruck talking with Ray, and also because she was in the midst of an interview she knew would end up on television. She said there will undoubtedly be extensive conversations about how best to use the money, and that there’s interest in getting a refrigerator and possibly finding a home beyond the current pantry space between a parking garage and the hospital building proper.
“Maybe there will be some sort of monthly allotment,” she said of the funding that could be used to support the effort at all three pantries.
Mason said the whole “Rachael Ray Show” interaction and personal publicity was not the kind of thing she’s used to or seeks, though she noted that Ray was “super nice and personable, putting me at ease. It was a strange situation, not what I usually do at work.”
She said that though the pantry she oversees at Mary Washington Hospital has not grown in size, donations and the number of supporters has grown.
“People here at the hospital are helping in whatever ways they can, and financial donations come in through the [Mary Washington Hospital] Foundation,” she said. “Individuals bring in whatever they can,” from good-sized donations of different goods to “people dropping off two or three cans they’ve bought.”
The ICU nurse said the pantries at Stafford Hospital and Fall Hill are overseen by staffers at those locations, though they all stay in touch and share or split donated items when necessary.
Mason said the items in the MWH pantry range from foodstuffs to children’s items, with diapers and baby supplies still a big need. She said the number and types of objects ebb and flow, and that she’s become the face of the operation, with people waiting to see her to deliver items, instead of taking them straight to the pantry.
She said that even though supplies have become a little more available in stores than they were at the start of the pandemic, “A lot of our associates are working extra shifts right now at the hospital, and some stores are closing earlier. So, really, 11 o’clock is not a time when many of us are able to go to the store and get things we need.”
Mason said she’s been touched and emotionally moved time and again by what people have done in giving to the pantry, and struck by how much even a thing or two means to those who really need it.
“I had a cart with me in the ICU the other day that just had spaghetti sauce and pancake syrup in it,” said Mason, who noted that an associate there asked if she could have the items. “When I asked her if there was something else she needed, she replied that, ‘No, no, this is plenty.’ ”
Then there was the associate who had just adopted a niece and nephew just before Thanksgiving, a situation what was tough on the family budget. The staffer asked whether it might be possible to get a Thanksgiving dinner through a drive to supply 200 of those holiday meals, and Mason said she answered, “You’re welcome to that and anything in the pantry,” which she said is now trying to figure out how to help supplement meals for the family that’s now doubled in size.
She added, “It definitely warms my heart, and we just want to help as long as we can sustain this. It’s working because of the generosity our associates have for each other.”
But she said one thing that came from the appearance on “The Rachael Ray Show” touched her heart and drew tears to her eyes, arriving in the form of a friend and nurse who moved away but had seen the TV segment.
The text, Mason noted, read like this: “Thank you for reminding me who we are as nurses. Thank you showing your heart and for reminding me to be the light in the dark, to do what nobody else will do, in a way that nobody else can do it, in spite of all.”
To give financial support for the pantry, go online to donate.mwhc.com, select “Donate Now” and complete the steps. Make sure in Step 1 to click the down arrow and choose Team Cupboard. To donate items and make arrangements for drop-off, email the MWHC Champions Team at Teamcupboard@mwhc.com.
Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415