Community comes together to offer food, services amid pandemic

Mar 16, 2020

In the face of an unprecedented pandemic, members of the Dartmouth community are coming together to help each other out — including offering free food to kids in need and free childcare to parents who have to work.

An outbreak of Covid-19, an illness caused by a new strain of coronavirus, earlier this year has resulted in national and state emergencies and caused schools, businesses, and community spaces to shut their doors.

Governor Charlie Baker announced aggressive new measures on March 15 to prevent the spread of the virus — including banning bars and restaurants from offering anything but take-out and delivery services.

But some Dartmouth businesses are doing all they can to help others during this time.

Max’s Restaurant on State Road is offering free food to any children who rely on school lunches for nourishment.

Some Dartmouth Public School students are on a free or reduced lunch program — and their families may not be able to handle the cost of extra meals.

Max’s announced the policy in a widely shared Facebook post on Monday.

“If school or daycare closures are preventing your child from being fed, please know that you can count on us to help you during these hard times,” the post reads. “Bring them in to our restaurant and we will feed them for free. No questions asked.”

Owner Steve Ginsberg said that as of Monday afternoon, no one had yet taken up the offer.

The restaurant will start its take-out only service on Tuesday from noon until 8 p.m. and continue every day thereafter until the restrictions are lifted.

Max’s may also start offering a delivery service in the next few days.

“It’s gonna affect us a lot,” noted Ginsberg of the restrictions. “But as long as everyone’s safe, that’s what’s important.”

Meanwhile, Renaissance Kids Academy daycare on Slocum Road has closed for the next three weeks — but owner Anne Quinlan is sending two of her tutors out to care for some of the kids in their own homes at no cost to families.

Childcare is necessary for parents who can’t get alternatives but still need to go to work, such as police, health care providers, or those in other essential fields, Quinlan explained.

She said that most of the parents have alternate care.

And although the governor’s directive did not include daycares, Quinlan noted, “I don’t want to expose the children to this virus.”

“It’s gonna be a big hit for me,” she said. “But I have to do what I can.”

“We’re all in this together,” she added.

Other daycares in town, including Kiddie Kampus and Dartmouth Children’s Center, are staying open — for now.

“We’re doing everything we can to stay clean and healthy and keep the center open for those families who need to stay at work,” said Dartmouth Children’s Center owner Kristen Fiano. 

Another local business is helping out in an unusual way: Dartmouth’s Petco has taken in tanks of fish from a Dartmouth High School aquaculture course.

The store has agreed to look after them for the three weeks schools are closed — at no cost.

Dartmouth High teacher Matt Tweedie, who teaches both a marine science class and a brand-new aquaculture and sustainability class, said that he and fellow teacher Rosanne Franco nearly panicked when they found out schools would be closed for such a long time.

He immediately bought a fish tank so that he could bring some of the fish home, he said. Native species, like sea bass, were released into the wild. But with eight tanks in classrooms all over the school, there were just too many fish.

“Petco really stepped up and helped us out,” Tweedie said. “They’ve been really supportive of the whole project.”

He added that his students have gone to visit the fish in their new home — Petco put a sign on their tanks that reads “Not for sale” — and said they look like they’re doing fine.

Dartmouth resident and Bridgwater State University student Kathleen Gifford is using the time away from studying for her master’s degree in social work to raise funds for a donation to the Greater Boston Food Bank.

She and her friends in college came up with the idea as a way to help out with the uncertainty and economic instability posed by the coronavirus, she said. They chose the Greater Boston Food bank as it serves food pantries all over eastern Massachusetts, and provides three meals for every dollar donated.

In just two days, she has raised $1,279 towards the goal of $3,300, or 10,000 meals, that she hopes to donate by Monday, March 23.

“It’s been amazing, really,” said Gifford. “I’m just blown away at everyone’s generosity and willingness to give back.”

Donations can be made to Gifford’s Venmo at @Kathleen-Wilbur.