The social distancing brought on by the coronavirus may be keeping neighbors from getting together in person, but the pandemic didn't stop one Mendon, Massachusetts community from joining together to say "thank you" to one of their hard-working residents, a 23-year-old nurse named Paige Colombo.
After working an overnight 12-hour shift as a cardiac nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital, Colombo drove home in the early morning hours last week to see neighbors waving at her from their doorways. Her street was lined with handmade signs thanking her — and all front-line medical workers — for their sacrifice.
"At first, I couldn't fully comprehend what was happening," Colombo told TODAY. "I was in shock that everyone put so much effort into making me feel loved and supported ... When I pulled into my driveway, my family was waiting for me and we were able to walk down the street together — that was when I was able to process everything and felt the overwhelming love and emotion."
"Gratitude instantly filled my heart," Colombo continued, explaining that in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, she and her co-workers have been working tirelessly to care for their patients, filling in wherever needed, regardless of which unit they typically work on. "The most challenging part has been adjusting to this 'new normal' and accepting that we're all unsure when it will end. Working in this new environment is much more emotionally exhausting than I expected ... but I am inspired by my team to keep pushing every day."
The signs, hand lettered and adorned with colorful drawings, praised Colombo and her team for their work keeping their community safe.
"Today's superheroes wear scrubs," read one sign.
"Thank you," read another. "You are brave. You are strong."
Paige's younger sister, Abbey Colombo, said her mom and a neighbor thought of the heartwarming idea.
"We live at the end of our street, so Paige passed about 15 signs before she was greeted by my family, holding signs in our driveway," said Abbey Colombo, who is currently a senior in college at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. "I have never been more proud of Paige than I am now, as she is on the front lines battling this pandemic. She has been so humble, gracious and strong during this difficult and scary time at work."
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"Paige is never one to seek attention," the 22-year-old explained, "so seeing her get the honor and attention she deserved was very moving for me."
Michelle Manoogian, a neighbor of the Colombo family, organized the show of gratitude through email and their neighborhood Facebook group. Manoogian says she hopes the gesture leads other communities to do the same.
"While you are home, think of a creative way to say 'thank you' to all of the essential workers," said Manoogian. "Not just health care, but people delivering your groceries, mail and parcels. You can be the difference, and you can be someone's hero."
"I can honestly say that since this show of support, I have felt empowered every time I go to work," she said. "I can't express how important it is for health care workers to feel supported right now — there are still a lot of unknowns and as much as we want to support each other, it can feel isolating because much of the world doesn't understand what we're going through. It feels so special to know others out there are behind us as well."