HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Month after month, treating COVID-19 patients has left frontline workers drained.
"We're exhausted," said Leslie Heath, a nurse at an area hospital.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Heath worked in an emergency department but had to transfer to a department that was less demanding after getting COVID from a patient last year.
"That caused fibrosis and scarring in my lungs," said Heath.
She's still dealing with the health impacts.
With the heavy toll COVID has taken on workers both physically and mentally, Pam Blaise, a former nurse herself, could see that the community's caregivers need someone to take care of them.
So, she is.
"Our goal is to just give them meals of hope. You know, these teams are not food insecure, but they're facing immense circumstances, very difficult times," said Blaise.
Through her recently formed nonprofit Care 4 Frontline, she creates what she calls pantry boxes.
Boxes are loaded with snacks and dropped off at area hospitals, encouragement to keep going.
Cathy Fox, who is also a nurse, joined Blaise not long after she started the project in 2020.
"I really felt like what Pam was doing was giving these nurses hope," said Fox.
She knows what it's like - both for those working in hospitals and the families coming into them.
"My dad was the second Virginia Beach resident to die of COVID," said Fox.
So, although they both work full-time jobs, they find time with the help of other volunteers so they can reach everyone on the frontlines.
"We get a weekly donation of about 300 bananas [and] they write inspirational messages on them," said Fox. "'Doctors crush COVID.' 'Respiratory therapists, we love you.' 'Environmental services, thank you for keeping us safe,'" she said, describing some of the messages written on the bananas.
They're messages that are needed now more than ever.
"Last year when they were the heroes, right, everybody clapped for them, and people would show up at the hospital with their cars and have their headlights on and clapping. Well, all that's gone away now," said Blaise.
So, when pantry boxes show up, the gratitude is clear - even behind the masks.
"You can see their eyes are smiling," said Blaise.
"It's phenomenal," said Heath. "[It] makes us feel like we're seen, it makes us feel appreciated, and you'll... you'll never get the nurses to turn down food," she said with a laugh.
A quick break for everyone working in the hospitals who haven't had a real break since the pandemic started.
If you want to help, they're looking for donations and corporate sponsors to help purchase food.