Town is 'pulling together' to fight virus

A message of hope and unity proudly hangs in front of the Roger Sherman Town Hall in New Milford.

A message of hope and unity proudly hangs in front of the Roger Sherman Town Hall in New Milford.

Deborah Rose / Hearst Connecticut Media

The town of New Milford is staring down the face of coronavirus with strength.

So says the banner hanging in front of the Roger Sherman Town Hall: “New Milford Strong.”

A town COVID-19 Task Force was formed last month and meets regularly to assess and plan for the needs of the town and its people.

And individuals and local charities have mobilized to raise funds and help provide support where needed.

“People are stepping it up,” said Mayor Pete Bass Monday.

“It’s the hallmark of our town,” Bass said. “The town employees are doing a stellar job - and town government is going - and the volunteers…everyone is pulling together.”

As of Monday afternoon, New Milford had 69 confirmed COVID-19 cases. The death of one male age 45 to 69 has been reported.

Neighboring towns of Sherman, Washington, Kent, and Bridgewater and Roxbury (see related story, Page 2), also have reported cases.

The task force is made up of numerous members of the community.

Among them are representatives from emergency services such as police, fire department and ambulance; the heads of the town’s health and social services departments, and senior center; the superintendent of schools; the head doctor at New Milford Hospital; and representatives from the New Milford VNA & Hospice, and agricultural, non-profit and business communities.

The task force meets formally once a week, but individual committees meet more frequently to stay on top of the latest happenings.

“As our federal and state leaders consider this a ‘war’ against this pandemic, we are planning in New Milford for such,” the mayor shared earlier this month on social media.

Monitoring the “logistical supply chains” is one of the task force’s main goals, according to the mayor.

Jim Ferlow leads the Emergency Operations Command, with Kevin Reynolds second in charge.

Bass said the EOC oversees the materials and supplies needed for emergency service personnel and first responders.

To date, several individuals and groups have donated equipment, hand sanitizer and other supplies, giving first responders and others on the front line the necessary protective gear.

Last week, an anonymous donor provided surgical masks that were given to New Milford Hospital, New Milford Community Ambulance, New Milford VNA & Hospice, and New Milford Medical Group.

The Helping Hands for Heroes charity, established on social media through Mission It’s Possible in recent weeks, is raising funds for protective gear, as well as coordinating free meals provided by local restaurants for first responders.

This past week, the group secured eight tons of food for Camella’s Cupboard and New Milford Social Services, according to its post Monday on social media.

Health Department Director Mike Crespan communicates with the state to regularly get current information about COVID-19 cases in town, and works in partnership with the hospital and the VNA.

Margery Feldberg of De Hoek Farm is tasked with working with local farms to explore the means of expanding locally grown foods for residents.

The Youth Agency, which operates Sullivan Farm, has also been asked to increase production.

The town is in communication with members of the Garden Club of New Milford who are mapping out plans for the public to plant victory gardens, which were popular during World War II.

The senior center, working with the Community Culinary School of Northwestern Connecticut, is focused on the elder population in town.

Carolyn Haglund, director of the senior center, said as of Monday, 75 meals are being delivered to those in need at home.

Ivana Butera, director of social services, said the department has been handling calls and emails from those who have questions about a variety of issues, including whether an individual is eligible for unemployment and how to file, and how to obtain food and other resources during this difficult time.

“In the beginning, it was about unemployment,” Butera said of the calls. “And people are concerned about their bills…and folks were not sure if they could apply for unemployment.”

“We’re trying to navigate that and get them connected to resources,” she said.

Butera said the town’s food bank, which is open Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., is operating as a drive-up. It is open to pre-registered individuals and families.

Those who have questions about eligibility should call the department at 860-355-6079. Registration can be done by phone.

More than 200 families were served last week, Butera said.

Volunteers and CERT members, who are gloved and masked, are helping distribute the food to motorists.

Butera said her department is also working with the senior center to ensure all seniors who need food have it.

The Youth Agency is also contributing to a limited number of deliveries of food to homebound, disabled individuals.

Seniors who are in need are encouraged to call the senior center at 860-355-6075.

In addition, the New Milford United Methodist Church’s Our Daily Bread food pantry is open Thursdays from 2 to 6 p.m., allowing those who can’t get to the food bank earlier in the day access to food at the pantry.

“It’s a nice collaboration between all agencies in so many different facets,” Butera said.

She is also working with Justin Cullmer, the town’s community cares coordinator.

The town’s homeless population is “OK right now,” Butera said.

The mayor is also concerned about the town’s economy.

That’s why Karen Pollard, the town’s economic development director, is reaching out to businesses to keep them informed about available grants and loan programs, according to Bass.

“We want to keep our local economy - though much is closed,” he said.

Bass advises the public to “follow protocols set forth by the governor,” including social distancing.

“As New Milford has always done in history, through war, Polio, (recent wars and more), we’ve always met challenges,” the mayor said. “And if we work together…we’ll have a very bright future.”