It’s every healthcare professional’s worst nightmare in 2020: Fighting COVID-19 on two fronts, both at work and also at home. Despite never catching the virus at work, Sofia Burke, RN soon found herself living out her fears. 

“Swept from under my feet”

Sofia is a nurse at the Holland Christian Home (HCH). Working with a concentration in infection control, she has spent many hours on the frontline tending to residents with COVID-19 and conducting COVID-19 tests for residents and staff.

In all of her efforts, she was careful to follow every precaution and remained healthy. But what do you do when the virus reaches your own family?

A single shared car ride between a family member and family friend opened the door to the virus. It quickly passed through Sofia’s entire household, sickening eight people in all including her two-year-old daughter. Tragically, her father passed away due to complications from the virus. 

“I feel like everything has been swept from under my feet,” she said in an interview with CNN. “Something so simple as breathing has become so difficult.”

Sofia has now been in the hospital for a full month, spending both Christmas and Thanksgiving away from her family.

A Community of Support

HCH Director of Activities & Volunteers Lynn Ardese, herself a mom, wanted to do something for Sofia’s family. “I can’t imagine not being with my kids during Christmas,” said Ardese. Together with her co-workers, she wondered “How can we give Sofia a few moments of happiness for her kids?” 

Considering buying gifts for the children, Lynn received more than expected when she posted on the Washington Township Moms Facebook page looking for gift ideas. In only a few days, her neighbors in the community filled her minivan with wrapped gifts for the children and a generous donation for the family.

Back at the Holland Christian Home, staff were doing the same. With help from Executive Director & Administrator Carlos G. Beato and Director of Dietary Services Steve Schott, Santa Claus personally delivered the gifts on December 22 (a couple of days early for Santa). Accompanied by his elves, he even borrowed a “sleigh” for the occasion – a big red firetruck courtesy of the Elmwood Park Volunteer Fire Department. 

“My family is so overjoyed with your visit and everyone that was there,” Burke shared after hearing about the visit from her family. “Thank you for bringing them some joy after such sadness.”

Paying It Forward

Burke is not the first employee of the Home to recently fall on hard times. Through the Home’s Pay It Forward program, staff members can donate unused paid time off (like vacation days or sick time) to employees who need them due to circumstances beyond their control. Through the same program, residents (as well as co-workers) can also donate money and resources. Past donation amounts for employees in crisis have approached $2,000 and beyond. 

Residents, staff, and even some of the Home’s professional partners donated generously to Sofia’s family earlier in December, both through Pay It Forward and through a GoFundMe page created by the family.

Although vaccines are beginning to be distributed nationwide, the pandemic remains a serious risk physically, emotionally and financially. “We all have our own Sofia’s in our lives,” said Beato, “people who are struggling right now. This is a time to look out for each other.”

After all, “That’s what Christmas is all about.”