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Arizona doctors and frontline workers sacrificing to serve community

Posted at 10:03 PM, Apr 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-14 01:24:46-04

The coronavirus pandemic is taking its toll on everyone, especially those on the frontlines. While so many people are being forced to stay home, others are being forced out of their homes to protect their families.

Dr. Kara Geren has worked in the Valleywise Health Medical Center for 10 years.

"We have more sick patients than we have had in the past," she said, mentioning the number of people coming in with respiratory issues.

But more difficult than battling the deadly coronavirus was the decision the mother of two made last week.

"We decided that the only person who could really introduce infection into the family was me, and that it was best for me to leave the house," said Dr. Geren. "It was heart-wrenching...My five-year-old is struggling to understand, 'Why is my mom is not home? When will mom be back? And why now?'"

Dr. Geren is now living in a hotel room at Scottsdale Links.

After an emotionally taxing shift, she is no longer able to kiss her husband, hug her 5-year-old daughter or hold her 18-month old son.

"You do it on FaceTime, or a phone call. But it’s not the same," she said.

The United Food Bank in Mesa is also feeling the strain.

"We’ve never seen something like this...We were panicking quite a lot because we lost 100% of our volunteer groups," said Tyson Nansel, United Food Bank's Director of External Affairs.

The United Food Bank delivers more than 1.5 million pounds of food across eastern Arizona every month. They help stock more than 220 agencies, like churches, shelters and food pantries.

As volunteers plummeted in recent weeks, demand more than quadrupled.

"So in about six hours we served about 2,200 families, or nearly 8000 individuals," said Nansel, noting that in February the average would be around 500 families.

Nansel is under immense stress, worried about feeding everyone that comes to the distribution center, while also keeping his volunteers and employees safe.

"It’s been taking a lot of us and our power to continue operating," he said.

But everyday Nansel and the team find more food. They have to -- because more Arizonans than ever are counting on them for their next meal.

"We had a mother and a daughter walk four miles to come get food," said Nansel. "We’re seeing seniors coming to our distribution scared that they are going to get sick but also they’ve run out of food because they aren’t going to the grocery store."

Right now there is no telling when things will be back to the normal we took for granted in 2019.

"We are planning on seven weeks," said Dr. Geren.

She knows next month and a half will feel like an eternity away from her family.

"It's a good temporary plan, but it’s not a good long-term plan," she said.

Because long term, Dr. Geren's primary job is to be a loving mother. She's putting that on hold to be a hero.

Frontline workers tell ABC15 they are drawing inspiration from one another. Dr. Geren says her ER team has never felt like more of a family.
Nansel, meanwhile, says the group's sense of purpose is at an all-time high.

United Food Bank is in desperate need of volunteers and funding. If you are interested in joining their mission to feed Arizonans in need, you can get involved here: