Brianna Fleming ’14 has found a sweet way to say ‘thank you’ to healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic at UMass Memorial Hospital, University Campus.
Fleming, a stroke-certified registered nurse on the acute care neurological floor (4East) at UMass Memorial, was inspired by the devotion of her coworkers as coronavirus patients began to flood the hospital. To help, she solicited donations from hospital staff not directly involved with COVID-19 patients and created snack boxes to help colleagues push through their long, demanding work shifts.
Fleming handed out the first “Power Boxes” to the three hospital units that were the first designated for COVID-19, as well as to the emergency room. From there, the initiative expanded to include an ever-increasing number of hospital departments.
“I have received such a positive response from those I’ve been able to give boxes to,” Fleming says. “There have been so many smiles and thank yous. If it were not for social distancing, there would be many hugs involved, but I’ve received many great elbow bumps instead.”
As the effort expanded, more UMass staff and their friends began to pitch in with donations. Each Power Box contains a variety of individualized snack packages, from gum, mints, and candy to granola bars, pretzels, cracker packages, and chips. Fruits, such as apples, oranges, and bananas, also have been included, along with fluids like Powerade, Gatorade, vitamin waters, and iced teas. “The idea is that each snack or drink can be wiped down (to sanitize) prior to consumption and is easy to consume on-the-go,” Fleming says.
The boxes are meant to reflect the appreciation and gratitude we all feel for healthcare workers who face an uncertain and potentially deadly situation, but still show up for work every day anyway.
“I don’t think it’s farfetched for me to say that we are afraid for a number of reasons,” Fleming says. “We are afraid for the health and safety of our coworkers, afraid of PPE (personal protection equipment) shortages and the consequences that might bring, afraid of when it will be our turn to care for a COVID patient, because almost all of us will, and for our own health and the health of the families we go home to every night and what we all stand to lose to this virus.” As monetary and snack donations continued coming in from coworkers, friends, and family, Fleming decided to open the project up to the public via Facebook and Instagram with a new goal of offering the COVID-19 Power Boxes to as many people as she could throughout the hospital. For her third round of deliveries, she was able to make 33 boxes, enough to give some to almost every hospital unit. She also includes as many ancillary staff as possible, the unsung heroes who keep the hospital running, including housekeeping, dietary, pharmacy, phlebotomy, and respiratory therapists.
“When I started this project, I had no idea that it would blossom into the hospital-wide effort it has become,” Fleming says. “What started as an opportunity to extend kindness to a few has turned into an opportunity to extend kindness to many.”
During a pandemic kindness also is a contagion, apparently—and a welcome one.
A friend of Fleming’s recently surprised her with a stack of thank-you cards made by children in her neighborhood to include in the Power Boxes, each one expressing words of kindness and gratitude for healthcare workers.
“There is something about the genuineness and innocence of a child that makes it hard not to smile, so I’ve recently started reaching out to those with young ones at home who are looking for a fun art project to do during their quarantine time,” Fleming says. “Ideally, I’d like to include one or two notes with each box as I move forward.”
Fleming plan is to keep distributing Power Boxes with the heartwarming cards every week or two, depending on inventory and funds available. So far, she has been able to raise about $2,700, and received a generous snack donation from BJ’s Wholesale Club to help boost inventory.
“My hope is to keep this going well past this COVID surge,” she says. “The battle won’t be over for a while.”
For more information, you can check out Fleming’s Facebook and Instagram accounts (Brianna Fleming/BriannaCurls0413). Fleming also will pick up donations of individually packaged snacks and beverages within a reasonable distance of UMass Memorial. Fleming also has started a GoFundMe  drive for the project.
“We’re living in the unknown, a time of uncertainty about when this pandemic will end,” Fleming says. “But we’re all in this fight together. Every person working for UMass Memorial Health Care, as well as healthcare professionals around the world who are bravely facing this often-deadly disease, deserves a huge amount of credit for just walking in the door each shift.”