On March 24, when Gov. Tom Wolf announced Pennsylvania schools were closing because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stephanie Knisely’s friend told her she couldn’t find diapers at any of the local grocery stores.
“It was around the time when everyone was going shopping, and the stores were out of things like diapers. I had diapers, and other people had extras of things others didn’t have, so I had a random idea for a group of my friends to donate something if they had it, and if they needed something, we’d give it to them,” said Knisely, of Waynesburg.
She started a Facebook group with about 10 friends and neighbors to post groceries and supplies they needed, and extra items they had on hand.
Within two weeks, though, the group swelled to about 600 members, and Knisely was receiving messages from families whose income earners had been laid off or had their work hours reduced as businesses and companies shuttered their doors while the novel coronavirus spread.
So Knisely, a mother of four sons, organized a network to help neighbors in need.
The Facebook group, called Mamas Helping Mamas, enables people to let Knisely know what they need or what they are able to donate.
Knisely does the grocery shopping, then packages and delivers groceries to families who are struggling and don’t have money to shop for themselves.
So far, Mamas Helping Mamas has provided at least a week’s supply of groceries for 15 families.
For her efforts to help her neighbors in need amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Knisely has been selected as the Observer-Reporter’s April ExtraORdinary Person of the Month. As part of the recognition, the newspaper and Washington Auto Mall have underwritten a $500 donation in Knisely’s name to Butterfly Angels, a nonprofit that provides emotional and financial support for bereaved parents who have lost a child.
“The first weekend I did this, my house literally turned into a food bank because of donations,” said Knisely. “There are so many people in need since so many people have lost their jobs. When you go from a two-income family to one family income or no income, it gets hard.”
Donations have included everything from baby wipes, eggs and ground beef to children’s clothing.
Knisely’s most recent delivery was to a woman who was forced to leave her job after she began running a fever and was awaiting COVID-19 test results. The woman’s husband lost his job, and their daughter – who also was laid off – and granddaughter recently moved in with them.
“The look on her face when we gave her the groceries was the best,” said Knisely.
The Facebook page also has grown to include other helpful hints, including age-appropriate arts and crafts projects, games, and funny and inspirational quotes and memes.
And professionals from the mental health field and other medical fields, along with teachers, have offered to help anyone who needs their assistance.
The group also includes men, Knisely noted.
Knisely and her husband, Wayne, are both still working, although Stony Point, the restaurant and bar where Knisely is employed, is only serving take-out food, so her hours have been reduced.
Their four sons, ages 17, 8, 5 and 2, are attending school online and pitch in to sort, organize and pack groceries and supplies for Mamas Helping Mamas.
“My middle two are going a little stir crazy. They’re active and social, and they have friends they miss, so it’s taking a toll on them,” said Knisely. “We’re trying our best here to keep some semblance of a routine.”
Knisely said she is the only one in her family who runs errands, and she practices social distancing, wears a mask, cleans the cart at the grocery store, and washes her hands frequently.
“My days are never the same,” said Knisely. “Some days I wake up, and there is a message that someone needs something. Some days, 10 people need something; some days, no one is looking for anything.”
Kari Fox, a friend of Knisely’s, said Knisely “is always offering her time and assistance to anyone who needs it, regardless of whether they have anything to offer in return.”
Knisely also coaches soccer teams in the fall, winter and spring seasons.
Knisely hopes her efforts to bring people in her community together during a challenging time helps to make their lives a little easier, and better.
“It makes me happy to see other people happy,” said Knisely. “It makes me feel better to see other people feel better. I love doing this.”