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Need rises at food pantries
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Food insecurity — the lack of secure access to sufficient affordable, nutritious food — is on the rise in Hampshire County and across the United States.

The Mountaineer Food Bank website reports 1 in 7 Hampshire County residents are currently food-insecure.

Meeting the demand is a challenge for local food pantries.

Barbara Sheetz, manager of the Springfield Food Pantry, reports feeding 100 families a month, plus an additional 125 seniors receiving monthly food boxes from the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.

A federal program available through the Mountaineer Food Bank, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program serves low-income senior citizens, making deliveries to them monthly at the Springfield Assembly of God, the Romney Presbyterian Church and Hope Christian Church in Augusta - where they will deliver food next Tuesday, but only to people enrolled in the CSFP program.

Seniors receiving CSFP boxes must be at least 60 years old with incomes that do not exceed $1,383 a month for a single person, or $1,868 for a couple. Kevin Hall (304-364-5518) at the Mountaineer Food Bank can provide more information on the program.

The Romney Food Pantry now feeds 350 families (or about 1,000 people) a month, says food pantry director Dick Gray. He took over a few weeks before the food pantry reopened in July and reports they served only 50 families his first month — possibly because not everyone knew they were open.

Capon Bridge is serving about 25 families a week or 100 a month, according to pantry director Linda Harris — up from 8-12 families a week 4 years ago.

To meet these needs, all 3 pantries receive a lot of help from local churches and community organizations, as well as individuals.

Romney and Springfield get food from the Mountaineer Food Bank, some free, and some they must pay for. Last month Romney received 6,000 pounds of food, three-quarters of it free.

Capon Bridge has chosen to remain independent of the state food bank because “this is our ministry, and we want to do it ourselves as long as we can” Harris says

For the past 7 years an annual Christmas benefit featuring the local band Rain Crow has given significant financial support — raising over $9,000 last December.

This year holding a crowded benefit “just wasn’t wise,” said Harris, and it has been canceled. Asked what the food pantry would do, she said she trusted the Lord would provide — though she agreed He might appreciate a little help.

Help comes from many sources. A family with 3 children is doing a reverse advent calendar to support the Springfield pantry, donating a food item each day for a month — an increasingly popular way to donate food during the holiday season.

Local businesses help too. Gray mentioned donations from the Food Lion, Sheetz and the 7-Eleven, and said a good deal on a second-hand freezer from Dewey’s Appliance Services had given the food pantry some new options.

All 3 food pantries are taking the necessary COVID precautions, with Springfield and Capon Bridge asking people to stay in their cars while masked volunteers attend to their needs, and Romney handing out food on the back steps of the church to one person at a time.

Romney and Springfield have been seeking younger volunteers to replace those at higher risk.

County sees red
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Active cases top 200

Virus hits staff at 2 schools

“With the holidays and the activities people are still going to continue to do, we’ll continue to see more and more spread,” County Health Director Stephanie Shoemaker predicted Monday.

Experts are expecting a surge in cases this week from contacts over the Thanksgiving holiday.

On Sunday Hampshire crossed the 400 threshold of total cases just a week after it hit 300. More than half those are active.

The accelerating numbers have overwhelmed the school system, which was listed Red Status in the Saturday Department of Education update. That closed Hampshire to in-person instruction for this week. The last day the buses ran was Nov. 17, a Tuesday.

Then, Monday night, Superintendent Jeff Pancione announced that staff members at the elementary schools in Romney and Capon Bridge had tested positive for the virus.

That sent most staff at those 2 facilities home to telework Tuesday and today, allowing time for the schools to be deep cleaned and for the health department to conduct contact tracing.

Monday afternoon’s report from the Hampshire County Health Department showed 207 active cases and 13 hospitalizations. Overall, the county has had 430 confirmed cases, 74 more probable and 4 deaths.

Six days earlier, Hampshire’s active total was just 81.

With the county’s status at Red, Shoemaker said the state is pushing for daily testing to be available. Right now her department has free tests scheduled for noon to 5 p.m. Thursday and noon to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Hampshire County Fairgrounds dining hall in Augusta.

“That’s our new testing central,” she said.

The county’s 2 nursing homes continue to maintain outbreak status.

Hampshire Memorial Hospital has 4 residents and 3 employees in its extended care unit who have tested positive. Shoemaker said the rest are negative, but the facility continues to do testing 2 times a week. 

At Hampshire Center, 6 employees and 1 ancillary service staffer have tested positive, but no residents have the virus, Shoemaker said.

Two employees at one of Potomac Center’s stand-alone group homes, Phoenix House, have tested positive, but Shoemaker said Monday the outbreak hadn’t spread there.

And at Exodus House, a treatment home for men recovering from addiction in the High View area, the one staff member who had COVID has recovered, with no new cases there.

In other developments:

• Shoemaker said quarantine for those exposed to the virus has been modified from the old standard of 14 days to 7 or 10 days.

A person that has been exposed can get tested after 5 days and if that test is also negative, then quarantine can end after 7 days. In all other cases, it’s 10 days.

• The virus continues to rage in counties around Hampshire.

Mineral County had 6 more residents die from the disease on Monday, bringing the county’s total to 36.

Allegany County, Md., reported 739 new cases on Friday alone.

• The state authorized home-based saliva tests for the virus last week. They can be requested on the state’s coronavirus website. Vault Health said results are available within 48 hours of being mailed in.

• Gov. Jim Justice said he expects the first doses of a coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer — about 60,000 — to reach the state next Tuesday, Dec. 15.

• West Virginia reported a record high of 6,211 new confirmed coronavirus cases the past week along with 109 deaths.

Deaths hit a record, jumping 15 percent over the week before. The state has had a total of at least 841 deaths linked to COVID-19 and 47,242 total confirmed cases.

• Saturday’s school map resulted in 28 of the state's 55 counties having virtual-only school due to the severity of virus spread.

‘I just pray’
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Connell brings faith, passion to COVID front line

It’s been 9 months of fluid gathering restrictions, social distancing directives and masks, masks, masks.

It’s been 9 months, and folks seem to be tiring of it, deciding that since the case numbers seemed to be getting few this summer, it must mean the virus has washed over Hampshire.

The reality is, after 9 months, it’s getting worse.

Romney’s Nicole Connell, who is a frontline worker in both the ICU at UPMC Western Maryland and as a school nurse at Romney Middle School, is living this reality, and this weekend she took to Facebook, sharing some of her personal experiences working in the ICU to explain to the community that no, we aren’t out of the woods yet.

“I feel like (the community) has gotten a little lax,” Connell admitted. “They saw the summer, and it looked a little better, but now it’s flu season, a COVID-flu season, and we need these reminders.”

Connell said Facebook was the vessel of choice for her passionate message because community members might need a familiar face to remind them that it’s not over, and, in fact, it’s the worst it’s been yet. She even included photos of her face, lined with marks from the masks and face shields.

“Those pictures, I took them just to send to my husband and family,” she said. “I can’t stress enough that things have changed; things are getting worse.”

Connell added that because this virus is seemingly invisible, people find it easier to overlook.

“They’re hearing the same thing, and once you hear it so many times, they’re just over it,” she said. “We’ve never had a winter season with this virus, and it’s obviously getting worse. I thought folks could see what I’m going through on the front line, and they’d understand a little more and take it more seriously.”

Right now, Connell’s job as a school nurse at RMS has shifted. School nurses in the county are helping the Hampshire County Health Department make calls for contact tracing of infected individuals. She called that “a little break” from her 2nd job in the ICU.

At UPMC in Cumberland, Connell is in a tough position from the second she steps through the doors.

“We aren't letting anyone in to visit (the patients),” she explained. “These patients are fighting for their lives. I’ve been with patients where I’m the last person they’re with before they pass, and I just pray with them.”

While Connell said that being that middleman is the toughest part of her job, it’s also “heartwarming and rewarding.”

“I feel like I can be there for them,” she said. “It makes me happy that I do work there.”

If folks in the community are tiring of wearing masks to the grocery store, imagine fighting on the front lines of the pandemic and the emotional toll it takes.

Connell said that she deals with that stress, anxiety and the all-around emotional roller coaster in her own way.

“There hasn’t been a day in ICU where I haven’t been crying in the car on my way home,” she revealed. “Mostly when you hit your end with it, you’re going home and you cry. You cry for the patients; you cry for the families.”

On top of her work as a school nurse and in the ICU, Connell is also a mother of a 4-year-old and a 10-year-old. With virtual school, 2 jobs and rising COVID-19 numbers throughout the area, it’s a lot to handle.

She relies on her faith to help her.

“I just pray. I pray a lot. My faith is really high. I pray for the families, the patients, the staff. I just rely on prayer a lot,” she said. “I’m really blessed to have another job that gives me a little break from the ICU.”

Connell also stressed the importance of following the health-conscious guidelines to protect the community from the spread of the deadly disease.

“It’s not like we are asking them to do a ton. Stay home when you’re sick, wash your hands, wear a mask,” she repeated. “I wanted to give people a little bit of insight, and my thoughts behind it. It weighed heavy on my heart. Even if I could make 1 person change their mind about it, it would help.”

‘He’s going to be OK’
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Virus strikes EMT couple swiftly, hospitalizing husband

“I looked at my husband and I said I can’t smell any of the scents in the room,” she recalled — odd, considering the presence of several warmers in the room. “I took a drink of a soda and could not taste it.”

Rob was in the same shape.

A trip from their Slanesville home into Trinity Family Healthcare in Romney got them tested. A call from Nurse Practitioner Chad Hott the next afternoon — just a week ago — confirmed what they suspected, and maybe saved Rob’s life.

The Carters had coronavirus. And the virus, which seemed to come from nowhere, hit the volunteer EMTs hard. By Saturday, Rob was in Winchester Medical Center for treatment of double pneumonia.

“Doctors told us if Chad Hott had not put us on steroids, an inhaler and antibiotics, we would probably have lost Rob 3 days earlier,” Vanessa asserted Monday.  

The 53-year-old grandparents are just 2 of more than 200 active cases in the county. Vanessa, who is recovering at home, expects to have them both in the “recovered” column soon.

“I know without a doubt he’s going to be OK,” Vanessa said. “He’s not coming out alone; he’s coming out helping others.”

Others are helping them at the moment.

The rescue squads in Romney and Springfield, where Rob has volunteered for more than a decade, have been quietly spreading the word about the Carters’ condition.

Romney Rescue is throwing a card party for the couple. You can send cards for them to Romney Rescue, attention: Carter card shower, P.O. Box 543, Romney, WV 26757.

Springfield Rescue Chief Donna Steward said the Carters’ condition is something every EMT worries about.

“Every time our first responders go out on a call they are putting themselves in harm’s way,” she said.

Vanessa Carter recognizes the seriousness. She’s on the staff of the county’s ambulance service.

“What really surprises us is we wore masks, we kept our hands clean and we still ended up with it,” she said.

To add to the mystery of its origin, she hadn’t been running calls for a few weeks because of a family emergency.

Vanessa said her symptoms were relatively mild Monday.

“I have a little more fatigue, a little more coughing,” she said. Her dry cough and headaches are “flu-like” symptoms.

Her husband is encouraging her with calls from his hospital bed.

“He says, ‘Honey, are you taking deep breaths and holding them and then letting them out? We need to make sure your lungs stay clear.’”

Rob himself was in stable condition Monday — kept out of ICU and off a high-intensity respirator unit because, Vanessa said, he was being a good patient, following orders.

“He’s hanging in there,” she said.

Despite the shock and dismay of seeing her husband go from healthy to hospitalized in 5 days, Vanessa says she is at peace “beyond peace.”

“I went through that crying and ‘Lord, why, why?’” she says. “I know God has my husband there for a reason. I know when he comes out it’s going to be victorious.”

Prayer has been essential.

“I prayed with him. Our oldest daughter called down and prayed with him,” Vanessa said. “God has such work for him.”

The Carters have 3 children and 11 grandchildren, in Romney, Augusta and Ohio.

Back in saddle again
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After a narrow loss to Frankfort The HHS Boys vanquished the vikings 10-2

SUNRISE SUMMIT — The week started off with a bitter back-and-forth battle on the road against rival Frankfort as the Falcons managed to squeak by the Trojans 1-0 thanks to an awkward deflection that bounced in favor of the birds.

Although Frankfort came away with the victory, there were many positives seen on the field for Hampshire. According to Coach Shawn Healy, “Hudl analytics showed us out possessing them 60-40. The difference was a shot that deflected off of one of my player’s legs to squirt past the keeper. At the end of the day we were unable to hit the dirt between the pipes.”

Sometimes luck can be the difference between two evenly matched teams. One thing Hampshire did well was keep Falcon striker Briar Cessna in check as he became frustrated with the Trojan defense and eventually earned a yellow card. A tip of the cap to Gentry Shockey as he was a beast on the field covering all sorts of ground and keeping Briar tied in knots all game long, which effectively nullified the Falcons best scoring option.

The floodgates opened for the Hampshire offense on Saturday afternoon as the offense put up double-digits against the Petersburg Vikings in a 10-2 convincing home victory.

“With Petersburg we were able to overwhelm them early,” said Coach Healy. “We scored 6 times in the first 8 minutes and 8 total goals in the first 15 minutes. We were just way faster and we were able to move the ball through their defense.”

Statistically for Hampshire Brady Pyles led the team with 4 goals against the Vikings with 2 assists. Burt Gayleard scored 1 goal, while striker Andrew Strawn notched 1 goal and 2 assists in 35 minutes of action. Andrew’s younger brother Dominic Strawn also tallied a goal. Carter Smith played the role of FedEx delivering 4 packages that contained assists while notching a goal for himself as well. Derrick Hyson and Colin Hott rounded out the scoring for the Trojans.

There has been noticeable improvement defensively for Hampshire and Coach Healy attributes that to a shift in the lineup. “We moved the Voit twins Austin and Anthony back to center back and they immediately made a difference. They have been able to slow the attack way down in the last two matches,” Healy explained.

With the win over Petersburg, the Trojans improved to (3-6-1) on the year.

The Hampshire JV team lost to Hedgesville 3-2 on Monday night. Brady Pyles and David Alkire scored the goals for Hampshire.

Last night the Trojans welcomed Jefferson to Sunrise Summit. To check out results follow Nick Carroll on Facebook or Twitter @NickCarroll_ . The boys have a road trip to Southern Garrett on Thursday Sept. 26 with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m. o