TCAT staff heartened by community generosity

Front-line workers gifted with Girl Scout cookies and other treats

TCAT got a sweet surprise this morning when Girl Scout Leader Kim Cook of Spencer pulled her mini-van into the transit agency’s parking lot.

In the back of her vehicle were several boxes of Tagalongs, Thin Mints, Caramel deLites/Samoas and all other varieties of Girl Scout cookies. They were destined for the many TCAT employees who have been on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic to make sure local residents have rides to pick up basic supplies.

“I would give you a hug if I could,” a grateful Mike Smith, TCAT’s assistant general manager, told Cook after they both unloaded 100 boxes of cookies destined for his staff of TCAT bus operators, maintenance crew and custodians. “We all appreciate this very much; this means a lot to us,” said Smith, (shown here with Cook and some of the cookie cargo.)

As it was soon discovered, the cookies were purchased by longtime TCAT Board Member Frank Proto, who said he was looking for a way to show his appreciation to the transit agency’s front line workers. So when he found out at a recent community Zoom meeting that social distancing protocols were prohibiting Girl Scouts from selling their cookies the traditional way, he figured he would help them while helping others in the most stressful jobs. Plus, he reckoned: “Everybody likes Girl Scout cookies.”

Both Smith and TCAT General Manager Scot Vanderpool said they were amazed at a recent outpouring of generosity from Proto and others in the community. “For me, you wind up getting caught up dealing with the issues of the pandemic and hearing nothing but bad news over social media,” Vanderpool said. “This was a breath of fresh air in the midst of all of the bad news. This generosity blows me away.”

Indeed, the cookies were added to a long list of donations to TCAT. In recent weeks, when managers worried about having enough face masks, Tompkins County Health Department readily donated hundreds of them to TCAT for both employees and customers, both of whom are required to wear them on the bus. The health department’s donation enabled numerous riders to board the bus and ride safely.

Then last week, long-time community leader Jean McPheeters and Julie Crowley, owner of Triphammer Wine and Spirits, joined forces to provide TCAT drivers free coffee and meals from Ithaca Coffee Co. at Triphammer Mall. McPheeters also donated gift cards to TCAT’s maintenance and custodial crew from yet another Ithaca institution, ShortStop Deli on 200 W. Seneca St., which so happens to be a nearby lunchtime haunt for many TCAT staff.

McPheeters, who has gotten to know TCAT staff through her consulting work with the agency, as well as her many years in her previous post as head of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, said she was inspired by the dedication of TCAT’s essential workers as well as the many people in the community who are helping one another.

Chuck Dong, owner of Shortstop, said he is also appreciative to people like McPheeters and “the wonderful support” from his community. ShortStop has set up a program for people to donate gift cards to local food-assistance organizations for provide groceries and ready-made foods from his deli. A friend of many TCAT staff who frequent his business, Dong said he looks forward to TCAT’s maintenance crew using the gift cards adding: “TCAT is so important to our community. You guys are an institution as well.”

During her visit with Smith this morning, Cook, who leads two troops, No. 40423 and 61573 in the Spencer/Van Etten area (the closest Girl Scout troops to the Ithaca area that Proto could find), said she has been sad that she has been unable to meet with her scouts for many weeks. Still she said she is heartened. “The community has stepped up and helped our girls in so many ways.”

Later in the day, after telling his fellow employees about the cookies, Smith summed up their enthusiasm for the treats by joking: “I feel like I might need a body guard in the office while delivering these,” adding, “But seriously, everyone is really grateful.”

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