Why Crozet: Facing Crisis with Ingenuity, Flexibility, Compassion

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Sawyer and Sydney Sullivan hide painted rocks for walkers to find.

Part four in a series

It’s important, where we live, and the reasons why. That’s why the county began the local part of the comprehensive plan update by asking people in and around Crozet why they like living here and—in the case of newcomers—why they came. The answers were unsurprising but still satisfying: Crozet is surrounded by breathtaking beauty, takes pride in its good schools, welcomes families, and is close to Charlottesville while keeping its small-town friendliness. But recent hardships remind us that our most important attraction is our people. We found many examples of thoughtfulness and optimism in Crozet and nearby.

Late in March, Jon Geffaell expressed a need for help grocery shopping. The semi-retired technology entrepreneur prudently decided he was one of those who probably shouldn’t venture out at all during the coronavirus pandemic. “I don’t want anyone to think I’m at death’s door,” he said, “but I’ve got some chronic diseases that put me at risk.” Geffaell, 59, has asthma and other lung problems, diabetes, and an as-yet-unnamed heart condition. 

Jon Gaffaell requested help, was flooded with responses

Geffaell, who said he donned a mask, gloves, and balaclava for his last trip to a store, was overwhelmed by the response to the request he posted on Nextdoor, the online neighborhood site. Day after day, people left comments, both public and private, telling him about local delivery possibilities and volunteering to shop for him and deliver food to his door. Some were neighbors, some were people still commuting to work in Charlottesville, and some volunteered their teen-age children, all without any expectation of a delivery fee. Geffaell personally thanked them all. In an interview he said that feeling supported and less isolated was just as important as having enough food on hand. 

“But that’s not all,” he said. He’s a long-time HAM radio operator and found his hobby to be a way to occupy himself during his isolation. When his outside equipment was damaged, he asked on a forum if someone nearby had the skills and strength to fix his set-up. “Within five minutes, I got a call,” he said. Mike Reedal, who had planned to spend the chilly early-spring day fishing with his son, instead drove out to the countryside and spent four hours repairing the damage and getting Geffaell’s operation back in service.

“His son came, too,” Geffaell said. “They worked outside in the cold for four hours. By the time they left, I was in tears. I was that touched by their generosity.”

Geffaell, an accomplished cook, said he made up a huge batch of chili with his newly delivered ingredients and is glad to share a meal with anyone who needs it. “I could just leave a quart on my porch for them,” he said.

Meanwhile, over in her Westhall neighborhood, Sharon Barrett recognized early on that there would be a medical mask shortage, and began sewing, adapting an online design and sharing her improved version with other mask-makers. She was one of several homebound artisans independently devoting many hours a day to constructing masks. Those who could not sew donated fabric, sewing machines and elastic, all of them hoping to reduce the pressure on the already-scarce medical stockpile estimated to be woefully inadequate for the days ahead. 

In Afton, post office employee Wendy Chiles set up a place on the shelves for patrons to leave items that someone else might be able to use. She hopes also to post information about food available from local farmers in season.

Recognizing that families with Alzheimer’s patients, whether at home or in care, would need extra support, the Alzheimer’s Association sent instructions to the Crozet group––it usually meets in the library on Saturday mornings––to meet by teleconference instead, and also sent ideas to help families deal with communications with care facilities. 

Sharon Barrett anticipated a need for medical masks and started sewing

Beverly Thierwechter and Betsy Aronson, who manage Albemarle County’s common garden space in Old Trail, devised a “social distancing” strategy to accomplish the required garden sign-up, placing a table below an open porch with the paperwork. From the porch, the women were able to answer questions about the gardens while still keeping a distance. Gardeners expressed an interest in the county’s plots, which are well-spaced so that gardeners can work without getting too close to one another. All over the country, isolated people are planning “victory gardens,” as a fresh source of food and a way to spend time outside. 

Diana Pace registers for a garden plot in Old Trail’s common gardens

Businesses that were able to remain open adapted quickly (see story on business page), and there were plenty of behind-the-scenes stories, too. In North Garden, Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie added a number of family-style meals to their take-out menu every evening, donating the proceeds to laid-off employees. The pay-what-you-want home-style meals quickly became a daily favorite, with people paying up to $300 for the limited meals to benefit the struggling kitchen workers. 

When Crozet Market’s Raphael Strumlauf arranged for local delivery, he knew maintaining inventory would be the key to supporting local customers, and he knew it would be difficult. He credits his managers: “They’ve worked long hours, sometimes developing second, third and fourth sources for everything.” 

At Sam’s Hot Dogs, owner Trey Wilkerson was pleasantly surprised when Pro Re Nata’s John Schoeb showed up to donate a mountain of paper goods left when food service at Pro Re Nata was temporarily discontinued. Wilkerson said his business was boosted again when Strumlauf set up an account paying for his employees to take their lunch breaks on the deck of Sam’s Hot Dogs.

Bears belonåging to Thea and Robbie Spitzner appear in upstairs windows on St. George Avenue for passing children to find.

Children out of school became resourceful in their isolation. Out in the country, Zella Lund spent her time after online lessons building forts in the woods. In town, families put teddy bears in windows so children walking by could make a game of finding the bears. 

In Old Trail, Kay Carbaugh organized her children to come up with a service project every day, from simple messages and art work in the windows for entertaining walkers to re-painting a bench defaced by graffiti. Brittany Sullivan of Grayrock Orchard and her children had fun painting rocks, leaving them in random outdoor places for other children to enjoy finding. Children (and adults) who found them posted photos.

Like many of us, Katrien Vance turned to cooking, making brownies and cookies, sometimes with her teenage and college-age sons. A long-time teacher, Vance has some advice for parents trying to manage their schoolchildren in the absence of school: 

Katrien Vance advises parents not to expect perfection.

“My heart goes out to all those parents with young ones who need much more entertainment and attention than my boys do,” she wrote. She said she’s tried to create a structure for her high schooler, asking him to work on some schoolwork in the mornings while she’s teaching online. 

“We ask him to get outside each day, too, taking walks with the dog or picking up trash in the area.” Rather than expecting perfection, she said, “I choose my battles and give us all a lot of space right now to be imperfect.” They have dinner together every night, as they have since the boys were young, and they’ve had a few game nights, playing “Sorry Sliders” and “Scene It.” 

Her boys also entertain each other at times with Wii golf. “But we’re not perfect,” she said. “There are hours each day that we’re in four separate rooms, each on some screen or device.”

Despite her disclaimer, Vance knows what she’s talking about. A veteran teacher at North Branch School, she was named Charlottesville Family’s Favorite Teacher of 2019. 

Sharon Barrett shares the mask style she’s been making: youtube.com/watch?v=ueWkAuY3k6Y and she adds a couple of extra steps for those new to mask-making: docs.google.com/document/ d/1na-_Kj1lL4hJlszF1Y1EN6 J9y69f934r3DKK-AyR0m0. Those wanting to join the Crozet Alzheimer’s support group can reach Suzanne Stephens [email protected] 

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