COVID-19’s Silver Linings: Feeding Dreams and Feeding Your Soul

     The screens on the porch will be replaced with glass, and a commercial kitchen in the basement is in the planning stages. The Walkers will be raising chickens again. They built a heated addition to their barn, and their gardens are expanding.  Beth is planning to grow greens, at the least, year-round.  Cold storage and canning will extend the sustainability. 

     Beth grew up in a farming family in Jay, Maine.  She said she knew that returning to sustainable living was always her goal.   

     Beth has a vision of what her farm will look like. She sees a wood-fired oven and picnic tables. Music is playing and the atmosphere attracts people who want something different from the town culture that she and Frank left behind. 

     Beth Walker and Vassie Fowler share similar stories. Both have connections to York County Community College: Beth as a culinary student, and Vassie as Sodexo’s food and catering manager in the café. The impact of the pandemic is that they are exactly where they want to be

      Before March 2020, Vassie knew that the café would close. She said, “I saw the writing on the wall.” What Vassie didn’t see was that a pandemic would be the reason she would find a job that she says feeds her soul.

     Vassie knew that YCCC’s incoming president planned deep budget cuts.  The college had not adapted to the traffic patterns in the café, and the fee contract that the college had with Sodexo was costing the college money. 

    During the first week of March, Vassie put in her order to prepare for the students’ return from spring break.  Like everyone, she was watching the news. When the college extended break, she wasn’t surprised. On March 16, 2020, the new president arrived, but the students never did.

    Vassie anticipated the day that the college café would close, but she thought she’d continue to work for Sodexo.  COVID changed that. On the day that Vassie’s husband had his last cancer treatment, she was laid off. “I was so freaked out…. I’m a worker…. I started to look for a job immediately.”  

     Vassie applied for unemployment, something she had never done before. But she said that was part of her panic. “From a political standpoint, I just kept thinking, How are we ever going to pay this back? What are our children going to be faced with?” She qualified for the $600 supplement and the bonus checks. She paid down her bills and looked for a job every day.

    She searched within her profession, but she knew that the school/college option was temporarily gone. Vassie explored hotel, restaurant and event venues.

     There were multiple job offers. One of them was as general manager for Ogunquit Beach Lobster House. Another was as catering manager for Curry College in Milton, Mass.  Due to the challenges and  restrictions of COVID, neither job became a reality.

     In August, a friend posted a link to a position on Indeed.com. Curious, Vassie checked it out. When she told her friend that she didn’t meet the educational qualifications, her friend said, “So what. Do it anyways.” Vassie applied for outreach worker for special populations with York County Community Action. 

   YCCA contacted Vassie and put her through a series of remote interviews. Vassie did have a couple of years of related experience in her own town, employed as a community builder with Biddeford Opportunity Alliance.  The interviewers asked her what she had been doing the past four or five years.  When Vassie responded that she was a food service and catering manager, they told her that it wasn’t social work.  Vassie said she told them, “But it is. I still took care of people, I still met people’s needs. I still listened. I still went out of my way to connect them to resources. I did it all the time with students…. Different job, different title. It’s part of who I am.” After careful vetting, YCCA offered the position to Vassie. 

     Vassie’s new job is different from what it will be when the threat of COVID is gone.  Now she meets with her clients remotely from her home.  When the weather gets nicer, she will meet her clients outside. Her targeted populations are those affected by homelessness and substance abuse. Without COVID’s restrictions, she would be working with people being released from jail.  It’s a disappointment for her not to be able to work with this population. For now, her added population is Nasson Healthcare referrals, and she enjoys being their liaison. 

     Vassie said, “This job is a blessing. It feeds my soul. It makes me who I am, better than I am. I love every minute of it even when it’s sad and awful. It’s hard. It’s hard every day.”  

     Vassie feels no loss associated with leaving Sodexo, except for missing the people she built relationships with. She still worries about the students at the college. For some, the meal she provided was the only one they had that day. Vassie knows for some of her YCCA clients, their only way out will be through YCCC’s doors.

     Her biggest loss is not seeing her parents and grandchildren regularly. She misses traveling.

     Reflecting on people close to her who passed during COVID she said,  “It’s just too much…. Losing people, plus losing touch with the people that are the most important to you… Losing routines…. It was a really tough year.”

     There are silver linings through it all.  Besides a job Vassie loves, she says that her income, benefits and schedule are better. She is happy with where she is now. “I’m a firm believer in you are where you are supposed to be, meant for when you are there.” 

     Vassie is where she’s meant to be serving others, nourishing others and herself.  Beth is, too, making her forever dream come true.