Sharing the Good: Virginia Generosity

Giving food, giving back, and giving good advice.

Dr. Zhen Yan of the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Photo courtesy UVA.

Work It!
Exercise may protect against deadly COVID-19 complication, UVA researcher says.

We all know that exercise has many health benefits, but a researcher at the University of Virginia found that it may also reduce the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome, a major cause of death in patients with the coronavirus. Dr. Zhen Yan of the UVA School of Medicine is now urging people to exercise based on his findings, which “strongly support” the possibility that exercise can prevent or at least reduce the severity of ARDS, which affects between 3 and 17 percent of all patients with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus. 

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates between 20 and 42 percent of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 will develop ARDS. The range for patients admitted to intensive care is estimated at 67 to 85 percent, and research suggests that approximately 45 percent of patients who develop severe ARDS will die. 

“All you hear now is either social distancing or ventilator, as if all we can do is either avoid exposure or rely on a ventilator to survive if we get infected,” Yan says. “The flip side of the story is that approximately 80 percent of confirmed COVID-19 patients have mild symptoms with no need of respiratory support.” The question is why, Yan says. “Our findings about an endogenous antioxidant enzyme provide important clues and have intrigued us to develop a novel therapeutic for ARDS caused by COVID-19.”

Research suggests that even a single session of exercise increases production of a potent antioxidant known as “extracellular superoxide dismutase” (EcSOD), which hunts down harmful free radicals, protecting our tissues and helping to prevent disease. His findings have prompted Yan to urge people to find ways to exercise even while maintaining social distancing. “We cannot live in isolation forever,” he says. “Regular exercise has far more health benefits than we know. The protection against this severe respiratory disease condition is just one of the many examples.”

(From left) Barry Schnoor, director of physical plant at SU; Mark Hurlburt, director of distribution at Valley Health; Timothy Meade, of Valley Health. Photo courtesy Shenandoah University.

Giving Back
Shenandoah University donates three ventilators and 2,500 face masks to Valley Health.

Several years ago, Valley Health donated three ventilators to Shenandoah University to help provide clinical experiences to the university’s nursing and respiratory therapy students. But amid the COVID-19 crisis, when hospitals are in dire need of more ventilators, the school recently donated them back to Valley Health, adding to the system’s supply. 

“It is so beautiful how sometimes good deeds come back to you,” said Shenandoah president Dr. Tracy Fitzsimmons. “It is hard to imagine what we would do in the Northern Shenandoah Valley without our colleagues at Valley Health, and I am so happy for anything Shenandoah can do to help support them.”

The ventilators will help patients suffering with respiratory issues associated with the coronavirus. “As the incidence of COVID-19 increases in our region, Valley Health staff is bracing for an influx of critically ill patients,” says Mark H. Merrill, the system’s president and CEO. “We welcome the addition of the ventilators to our reserve so we can assist more patients who need breathing support in the days and weeks ahead. 

The university also donated approximately 2,500 hospital masks to Valley Health. Shenandoah and Valley Health have shared a partnership for nearly 60 years, when the hospital system gave the university its start in the health professions with the development of the nursing program. Shenandoah UniversityValley Health

Photo courtesy The Williamsburg Winery.

Call to Action
The Williamsburg Winery and community partners team up to feed hundreds of hospital workers. 

When Tracy Shackelford and Harold Philipsen of Northwestern Mutual, in partnership with The Williamsburg Winery, put out a call to help feed hospital workers in Williamsburg, the community did more than just rally. They came out in full force. In a matter of days, community members contributed more than $4,000 to the cause, allowing the team to not only purchase 260 lunches for members of the medical teams at Riverside Doctors’ Hospital Williamsburg and Sentara Regional Medical Center Williamsburg, but to also come back and bring more meals in the future.

“This idea came out of a friend of mine who did something similar in Richmond, and I thought if they could do it there, we can do it here,” Shackelford says. “Today we were able to show our medical workers support from the community for everything they are doing for us, and for what they will have to do for us in the future.”

The Gabriel Archer Tavern at The Williamsburg Winery provided the food—a selection of their signature sandwiches paired with chips and a cookie—for $8 per meal, a special price just for this initiative. “We are trying to help these guys out and give them a little break from the cafeteria,” says The Williamsburg Winery’s chef, David McClure. “This just goes to show how many people look out for each other in this community.”

The Williamsburg Winery continues to collect support to feed hospital and medical workers throughout the region. Contributions can be made online at

A Mercy Chefs pickup point. Photo by Cletis Johnson Jr. All photos courtesy of Mercy Chefs.

Showing Mercy
Mercy Chefs serving 15,000 meals a week from community kitchen.

Mercy Chefs, a Portsmouth-based humanitarian aid organization that serves professionally prepared, restaurant-quality meals to victims and first responders in emergencies and natural disasters, is prepping 15,000 meals a week at its Portsmouth community kitchen amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The group has been working with the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore and other partners to get meals to school children and the elderly, two vulnerable populations who wouldn’t otherwise have access to nutritious meals. Numerous volunteers from Volunteer Hampton Roads have been supporting the effort.

“When we launched our community kitchen in August 2019, our hope was to expand our community outreach right here at home so we could provide relief right here in times of need,” says Mercy Chefs founder Gary LeBlanc. “This is an unusual disaster, but our team is poised and ready to respond, and it’s been an honor to partner with organizations like the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore to get meals to those in need.”

Mercy Chefs is also preparing meals for front-line firefighters and police officers, giving these public servants a better option than the MREs that they often receive during times of crisis. To ensure social distancing, the chefs are preparing meals out of its community kitchen and flash-freezing them so that they can be delivered to these families and reheated in a microwave. This is the first time Mercy Chefs has used this method in its 14-year history.

Spreading Kindness
Charlottesville winery offers care packages curated with local partners. 

Knight’s Gambit Vineyard in Charlottesville is collaborating with other local vendors on Corona Care Packages to sell online, donating 10 percent of proceeds to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. “The idea behind our care packages to specially curate a box of goodies that people can treat themselves to during these trying times or send to a loved one who is quarantined,” says vineyard manager Jordan Summers. “We want to help other local companies who are struggling during these times and add a little joy to our customer’s lives.”

Packages are available in two sizes. The Single Care Package ($60) includes two bottles of wine, a 12-ounce bag of Trager Brothers Coffee in Afton, and freshly baked bread and a six-pack assorted cookies from Albemarle Baking Company in Charlottesville. The Family Package ($95) includes four bottles of wine, coffee, and additional baked goods. 

 “We hope they put a smile on your face or help you spread kindness to others,” Summers says of the packages.

Have you witnessed (or participated in) acts of kindness or caring, inspirational moments, creative solutions, or heartwarming connections? Email us at   (subject line: #sharethegood) and we might share your story.

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