SPARTA, NJ – With the mission of getting people happy again and giving everybody a purpose Sparta resident Melissa Prestipino has created Sparta Helps Healthcare Heroes.  "When we are faced with this challenge, our true colors come out and we need to pull together," Prestipino said, crediting people in the community with providing the inspiration. 

The group is helping community members channel their desire to “support healthcare workers from the beginning of the line to the frontline; local doctors, EMTs, hospital workers, nursing homes, even a nurse who lives in Sparta but works in Hackensack.”

Reinventing herself with both her family business and professional office closed because of the coronavirus, Prestipino said she knew she needed to help.  She has called on a team of "key player" volunteers to support people who are supporting the community.The group has been collecting food and supplies.  “Our main goal is to keep [the healthcare workers] healthy and standing so they are rested and ready to help,” Prestipino said.

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Prestipino is a physical therapist, her brother is a surgeon. She said the stories she has been hearing from the medical community have pushed her to work harder.  

 “I have lots of energy and now lots of time,”Prestipino said.  “I don’t want to do politics but I want to get people together for good causes in the community.”

With the strategy of building a Board of Directors, Prestipino said she knew right away what she wanted to do and that she was going to need help to do it.  She tapped friends:

  • Joanna Beach- "superior organizational skills"  and set up the Facebook page
  • Nicole Chiong- helping to "execute the initiative." Her husband, a graphic designer, created a logo, branding them.
  • Erica Hertzberg – “internet and logistics,” setting up the banking, GoFundMe, ZOOM calls, email “she gets the tech stuff”
  • LeeAnne Pitzer – set up and is coordinating the supplies and Amazon wish list requests, unpacking and distributing the items
  • Another member of the team, who wished not to be named, “handles food operations” from getting restaurants to help feed workers to collecting food donations.

“We’ve taken off,”Prestipino said. “We have our connections and our roles.”

The group’s facebook page is a clearing house of request, donations and ideas, Prestipino said.  They are happy to support the implementation of new ideas, “just no direct sales please.”

A couple of fundraisers have closed but lawn signs are available for $25 through April 6.  Orders can be placed by emailing kami@northjerseypm.com according to a post by Heather Wolstenholme.  “All proceeds go directly to support the healthcare community during this time.  They are in desperate need of supplies, water, snacks, etc.  Please help to acknowledge them while supporting them.” The signs are being made by Kelly Evans from Signs Etc.

On April 1 the Sparta Dairy donated $1 from every ice cream sale. Local restaurants have donated or sponsored meals to be delivered to the staff at the hospitals. Jarrod Cofrancesco of the Homestead Rest has offered to "take care of an entire catering order for the healthcare workers at Newton Medical Center on a weekly basis."  

B. Luchynskyy Photography in Branchville is offering “front porch” portraits for free with a donation to a hospital or local business.

"People are in need," Prestipino said. "They really need help in the hospitals which can be a scary place in normal times.  This is a pandemic. Some of the needs are somewhat new, like video monitors."

There have been a few calls for donations of video baby monitors from area hospitals.  Hospital workers are using them to check on patients without having to go into the room, saving valuable PPE. 

The group is also fulfilling Amazon wishlist requests and purchasing food with funds raised on their GoFundMe site.  The list is regularly updated with items requested by local hospitals, healthcare workers and first responders according to Pitzer’s post. As of Friday, the GoFundMe page has raised more than $12,000.

While they have purchased and donated medical grade personal protective equipment, they are stepping back from community efforts to make masks and gowns, as other groups have picked up that cause, according to Prestipino.

The Sparta Helps Healthcare Heroes facebook page is also filled with posts from healthcare workers who have received anonymous care packages delivered to their door.

The passion to help healthcare providers throughout the community is unmistakable, as Prestipino shares details about Sparta Helps Healthcare Heroes initiative. "It's about finding your purpose. The chain of helping has been so powerful."

The group's email address is SpartaHHHeroes@gmail.com

Prestipino said, "We are little people trying to do big things."

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