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A nurse is being celebrated for starting a free pantry at her hospital to help health care workers in need

A nurse at a Virginia hospital is being hailed a hero for starting a free pantry to help colleagues struggling to make ends meet during the coronavirus pandemic.

Stacy Mason, who has worked at Mary Washington Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in Fredericksburg for more than seven years, established the “team cupboard” in May, after hearing health care workers talk about being unable to find essential items, like sanitary wipes and diapers.

The initiative started as effort to help workers in the ICU, but quickly grew to include the entire hospital system.

“Our ICU is truly like a family, especially now more than ever. We bond together, we celebrate the good times and mourn the bad times,” Mason told CNN. “So when this started happening, we began looking after one another. So I thought, if we can do this as an ICU, why can’t we do this for the hospital and the whole health care system?”

Since launching the pantry, donations — including non-perishable food, baby products and toiletries — have poured in from the surrounding community.

So many donations have have been made that the hospital created three permanent donation and pick-up locations at Mary Washington Hospital, Stafford Hospital (also a Mary Washington Healthcare hospital), and the Mary Washington Healthcare corporate office.

“Stacy is an incredible nurse and she saw an opportunity to help her fellow associates by creating the Mary Washington Healthcare Team Cupboard where people give what they can and take what they need,” Kathy Wall, senior vice president of Mary Washington Healthcare, told CNN.

“Stacy embodies our values and she has demonstrated the generosity and initiative we see every day as our associates care for our patients and one another. We’re so thankful to her for starting the MWHC Team Cupboard.”

Along with everyday essentials, the pantry has also started to receive school supplies to help struggling parents provide for their children as the new school year approaches.

Mason, who received the Daisy Award for Extraordinary Nurses in 2019, was named a Hometown Hero by Fredericksburg’s local newspaper after being nominated by one of her colleagues.

Mason said she appreciates the honor, but was really only looking to help.

“Covid has been hard on everybody in different ways. A lot of people working at the hospital had to distance themselves from family just as a safety measure. Many people lost their jobs, some people’s families have become single-income families. Not everyone is sure they can put food on their table anymore,” Mason said.

“Now I’ve had people say that the pantry has been a real blessing during this time. That was my goal. All I wanted was for people to have a resource and get the things they needed no matter what.”

Mason even plans to keep the free pantry going long after the coronavirus pandemic ends.

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