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When the stay-at-home order was put into the place during the first surge of COVID-19, businesses throughout the area were forced to close, at least temporarily, or modify their hours and shopping options. While shutters went up in storefronts throughout the city, the city within Massachusetts General Hospital continued to buzz and employees and patients continued to need things—a candy bar pick-me-up, a trinket to thank a coworker or a Mass General scrub cap. But particularly during COVID-19, people also needed things like sympathy cards, a comforting blanket or flowers to recognize a loss. The hospital’s gift shops—operated by the LVC—welcomed patients and staff with open doors and open hearts.

Joanne Ellison Lynch
Shannon Babbitt Hoyt and Joanne Ellison Lynch

The General Store remained open so that we could service all the employees who were working so hard during this pandemic,” says Joanne Ellison Lynch, administrative director, The General Store. “We made sure we were here so that there was a place for Mass General staff to purchase all their needs—such as scrubs, snacks, toothbrushes, whatever they needed—or to just come in and take a break to get away from what they were facing outside our doors. The most memorable experience was to see many of the nurses visit the shop to purchase Mass General clothing to show how proud they were to be caring for patients during this unimaginable time at Mass General.”

Like other operations at the hospital, the LVC, the volunteer organization that supports the hospital’s retail shops, had to make quick decisions to ensure the General Store could remain open safely to serve patients and staff and continue to support the mission of providing funds back into the hospital.

“I am always proud of the ways we support the hospital in any way we can, being that we are part of the LVC and our mission is to serve the Mass General community, but the hospital’s response to COVID-19 has proven to me that Mass General is even more of a community than I had ever imagined,” says Shannon Babbitt Hoyt, buyer for the LVC Retail Stores. “Being here from the moment COVID-19 began, it was inspiring to watch all the medical professionals and support staff come in each day, even though the hallways didn’t look or feel the same, knowing each of us had our own fears and worries, yet we came in each day to serve the needs of Mass General patients and families as well as each other as employees.”

To show support for the employees that passed in the hallways and stopped into the General Store, the shops and the LVC helped Patient Care Services purchase the “Boston Strong, MGH Proud” T-shirts that were given out to all staff in April. Also, during the peak months of the surge, the shops offered a 30 percent discount. “During this difficult time, we tried our best to help by offering a 30 percent discount to all Mass General employees and patients. I know that isn't much, but we were hopeful that it could have financially helped in some way,” says Joel Canlas, senior accountant for the LVC.

Joel Canlas
Joel Canlas

Canlas, who manages the financials for the retail shops, and Hoyt, who purchases the inventory available at the shops, continue to explore new territory as the hospital faces a potential second surge—what will people want and need to buy?

Hoyt is usually hands-on when it comes to choosing what merchandise will be offered in the retail locations—and the holidays are a particular favorite. “Instead, I’m purchasing new items in high volumes, such as hand sanitizer, masks and scrub hats,” she says. “I’m always planning months in advance for purchasing next year’s holiday items and at this time I’m unable to meet in person with my sales representatives, so anything I need for the stores for next year I either order by virtual visit or a phone call, but it’s challenging to predict what next year will be like in these uncertain times.”

Orders that have remained steady include items that celebrate the employees, such as inspirational plaques, forever cards and T-shirts that say "Real heroes wear scrubs" and "Stronger Togethah." Hoyt says, “We’ve also done special orders for departments to purchase bulk gifts. And I’m most proud when I meet patients proud to be healed here and helping them buy gifts for the nurses or doctors.”

Lynch, the General Store’s administrative director, says the LVC is doing more business online and through social media, and since the first surge, the LVC has re-opened other retail locations such as Images Boutique and the hospital’s hair salon by appointment only.

“I’m most proud of saying that I am part of Mass General,” Hoyt says, “I truly believe this community cares about one another, and it’s an amazing thing to witness each and every day. It’s the little things we do that mean the most to one another, whether it’s a smile that you can see in someone’s eyes, wishing them health and wellness, or checking in to make sure they are okay.”

As the hospital prepares for a potential second surge, one thing is for sure, in these uncertain times, people need comfort and the LVC retail stores work to provide that—be it with a candy bar, a floral arrangement or a walk by the scented candle section and a smile from behind a mask.