When the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center got a call from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office asking if it could open its doors to provide free care to the children of essential workers, the staff made it happen.
Normally, the center enrolls kids only up to 5 years of age, but over the summer, children up to 12 "could just come there and be children and have a place of joyous play and companionship," said Joan Overlock, the center's development director.
Marisol Guerrero, the lead teacher for the junior prekindergarten level, commented that Covid-19 "changed things overnight." The staff was cautious about social distancing, which was "tough and a stress," she said, but reinforced their teamwork. The center had no cases of Covid during the spring or summer. "I feel happy and proud that we were there. We were open, and we were there," Ms. Guerrero said.
Ms. Overlock credited the center's success in large part to the community. In addition to major donors to the center's own Fund for 631, the Sag Harbor Partnership sent in a "delivery man with a van" to distribute fliers and get the word out; Jerry Larsen helped raise money before being elected East Hampton Village mayor, and John Graham, owner of Hampton Racquet, gave seed money for the center's still-running pop-up food pantry, which operates in collaboration with the Springs Food Pantry and Share the Harvest Farm.
More than half a million dollars allowed 55 kids to attend the center from March to August, five days a week, 10 hours a day. The Highway Restaurant threw a pizza party with its mobile pizza truck, Stevenson's Toys and Steph's Stuff gave bags of toys, the Sag Harbor Helpers made the children brightly colored masks, and the Willem de Kooning Foundation gave a challenge grant of $150,000.
"We live in a very special place," Ms. Overlock said.