Covid-19 Chronicles from the Jersey Shore

Recent tales of caring, sharing and innovation.

Courtesy of Phyllis Ida Concordia

North Wildwood

BOARDWALK SEWING EMPIRE

Phyllis Ida Concordia closed Rapunzel’s, her home-décor shop on the Wildwood boardwalk, two days before Governor Murphy shut down all nonessential businesses. She closed early, hoping to give visitors one less reason to shop.

A skilled seamstress who makes the shop’s custom pieces, Concordia decided to put her talent to work against Covid-19 by making face masks. With 200 bolts of fabric and 100 yards of elastic in stock, Concordia was ready when Cape Regional Medical Center posted an appeal for masks. The next day, she mobilized volunteer stitchers via Facebook to mass-produce coverings. Her pitch: “You get precut materials for free, you get no money, and you get props for doing a good thing.” Recruit Donna Dorworth provided free pickup and delivery.

The sewing circle grew to 37 volunteers. By deadline, they had sewn more than 1,700 masks for hospital staff and were mid-stitch through another 1,000 pieces. Concordia’s goal is 5,000 masks. —Lynn Martenstein

Asbury Park

THIS FUNDRAISER IS A PUZZLE

Jenna Lazar likes to make art that does more than just hang on a wall. In her workshop, called After Rain, the Asbury Park-based photographer and her husband, Bobby, turn shots of iconic Shore-town scenes into what she calls “functional art.” In addition to traditional prints, After Rain sells flip-flops, coasters, flasks, backpacks and more, all printed with scenes from down the Shore.

As Covid-19 forced their neighbors, and their family indoors, the Lazars found a way to use their creations to entertain and give back to the community. Now, through After Rain’s website, customers can order Jenna’s photos in the form of 130–255 piece jigsaw puzzles, starting at $25. For each puzzle sold, 10 percent is donated to Asbury Park Dinner Table, a nonprofit focused on providing meals to those in need.

“We’ve had such a great reaction in the community,” Jenna says. “Our best sellers used to be posters, and now, all of a sudden, we’re puzzle people.” —Shea Swenson

Courtesy of Sally Younghan

Bay Head

STRESS RELIEF VIA ZOOM

Seeking to help stressed-out health care workers “stay centered in a really difficult time,” wellness professional Sally Younghans began offering free “decompression breaks” using the ubiquitous Zoom app. The daily 30-minute sessions—part meditation, part stress management—are timed to hospital shift changes at 8 am, 4 pm and 8 pm.

Younghans conducts the Zoom sessions from her Bay Head home. She begins each with a personal check-in. “I ask them to think about how they’re feeling without getting caught up in the story around that feeling,” she says. “They begin to share. You’re in a circle of trust, and it creates an instant bond.” The group then takes “a collective breath,” says Younghans, and she guides them through a traditional meditation session. “We end with love and kindness affirmations.” 

Younghans, whose business, MELT (Mindful Education Life Tools), provides mindfulness-training programs for professionals, is also offering mindfulness sessions for at-risk youth in Newark and Atlantic City, through her connections with Covenant House.

Go to decompressionbreaks.com for more information. —Lauren Payne

Lelah and Jay Eppenbach Courtesy of Maya Eppenbach

Cape May

THE BAND PLAYS ON

The day the music died in Cape May was short-lived. On the same day the state barred social gatherings, musical duo Lelah and Jay Eppenbach (aka the Honeyhawks) started playing live for friends on Facebook from their living room. 

Their kickoff concert, the Virtually Cape May Happy Hour, was heartening. Lelah called out to friends as they joined them online. The Eppenbachs’ kids ran into the room and waved. In time, the Eppenbachs’ get-togethers morphed into a concert series featuring 50 musicians, with twice-nightly shows and audiences of up to 200. A virtual tip jar allowed performers to support local charities or out-of-work colleagues.

“We’re grateful for the musicians in our community and music’s ability to distract and soothe,” says Lelah. “It’s a big difference from playing in a bar. It’s intimate, and there’s a beautiful reciprocity.” —Lynn Martenstein

Island Heights

OCEAN COUNTY BELL RINGERS

The sun was about to set over Toms River when Barbara Parisi stepped onto the wrap-around porch of her 19th-century Victorian in Island Heights and began ringing a hand-held teacher’s bell. The 67-year-old kindergarten aide certainly wasn’t calling any students in from recess. 

Rather, Parisi was adding to the symphony of church bells, chimes, and clacking pots and pans sounding throughout Ocean County from 7–7:02 pm every Wednesday in solidarity against coronavirus. 

Following the lead of New York City and Connecticut, 28-year-old yoga instructor Tara Marqua of Little Egg Harbor launched the Ocean County bell-ringing campaign on social media in early April. 

Her #oceancountyflattensthecurve message was soon shared by more than 1,500 people. By mid-April, Ocean County had the eighth highest coronavirus numbers in the state, with 4,016 confirmed cases and 166 deaths. With each passing week, the countywide evening chorus grew louder.

“In the beginning, people were wondering, Why’s the church bell ringing?” says Katie Frankovich, 58, who rings an antique bell and a bicycle bell each Wednesday. “Then you start to hear other bells, and pots and pans banging, and it really carries.” —Jill P. Capuzzo

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