DULUTH -- Twenty seconds can make a huge difference, and sometimes, that’s all Brynn Erickson has.

Part of her job as food service supervisor at St. Ann’s Residence is delivering meal trays.

What were once communal gatherings at the assisted living facility spread across five dining halls has shifted to clients eating alone in their rooms during the COVID-19 pandemic. That means her time with a resident may often be the only contact they get during the day.

“I try to ask them about their day … something to make them smile and try to make, maybe, this whole situation a little bit better,” she said.

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Erickson started working at St. Ann’s 10 years ago. Some of the residents she has known since then, and they’ve become family to her.

Wade Schadewald and Erickson started about the same time, and Erickson contributes to the positive culture, he said.

“She always has a good attitude" and she brings food with a smile behind the mask, Schadewald said.

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“Somebody who goes in and does what needs to get done despite personal risk. … That’s Brynn during this pandemic in a nutshell,” Crickett Lancaster of Duluth said.

The two met a couple years ago and are friends today. Lancaster was also self-isolating for her job, and the two made a point to check in on each other.

Erickson brings care off the clock by self-isolating, wearing a mask and taking her temperature twice a day, Lancaster said. She doesn’t make a fuss; she just gets the job done.

The term “hero” reminds Brynn Erickson (left) of her grandparents Barbara and Steve Kenner (right). “They took me in for six years, and I don’t think I’d be where I am or even close to where I am if it wasn’t for them,” she said. (Submitted photo)
The term “hero” reminds Brynn Erickson (left) of her grandparents Barbara and Steve Kenner (right). “They took me in for six years, and I don’t think I’d be where I am or even close to where I am if it wasn’t for them,” she said. (Submitted photo)

“I’m not doing anything differently than someone who has compassion and care would do,” Erickson said. “I’m proud that people can tell that I care about these residents. I couldn’t do it alone.”

The term “hero” reminds Erickson of her grandparents, Steve and Barbara Kenner.

“They took me in for six years, and I don’t think I’d be where I am or even close to where I am if it wasn’t for them,” she said.

Her grandfather went into hospice and died due to non-COVID-related health issues during the stay-at-home order. Erickson regrets she didn’t see him before he died.

It’s difficult not to hug your family right now, but she has been exposed and could be a risk to them. Instead, she has a circle of loved ones whom she connects with over the phone.

She remembers to eat, sleep and take care of her basic needs, which sometimes means sitting and decompressing.

Erickson hopes to continue to keep the residents safe, healthy and just to make them smile and know there are people thinking about them who care.

She said it helps to remind yourself why you started as an essential worker: “It’s rough, but keep going, and we will push through this.”

Who is your COVID-19 hero? Email your submission to hero@forumcomm.com