In late March, the Governors Office, the Suffolk County Executive’s Office, and the East Hampton Town Supervisor’s Office contacted the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center (EWECC) in East Hampton to ask if the Center could open to provide child care for essential workers.
Not only has the Center re-opened, but they are waving tuition fees during the current state of emergency. “We opened for the essential workforce. We’re providing care for them at no charge,” Katy Graves, EWECC Executive Director, noted.
The service is available for children 18 months to sixth grade. “We haven’t had a lot of children. We’ve had between five and maybe ten children a day coming into the Center for care,” Graves noted. “We have, for example, a nurse that has to work nights and her husband has to work days. She just brings them in long enough for her to get six hours of sleep every day.”
For some families, the person who typically provides child care may be unavailable due to safety concerns. “We have someone who has to farm. So she brings her child in just one day a week. Normally that day her child would have to be with her grandma and that’s not safe. We have folks that are delivering food,” Graves relayed.
As EWECC has waived costs for essential workers, the community is chipping in and lending a hand when they can. “It’s going well. We’ve had wonderful support. East Hampton School has donated their custodial staff to come in and clean the building every day,” Graves shared. “We had a neighborhood helpers group make us these beautiful – from Mount Sinai Hospital – their map of how you make their patterns for masks. They’re really happy, beautiful masks that are really child friendly. The children think we’re in costumes. They don’t realize we’re wearing masks.”
“East Hampton also donated breakfast and lunch. We do have a partial kitchen here. But our cook, her health has been compromised at times, so she hasn’t been coming,” she said.
However, since the Center is providing the service for free, that is putting a major financial strain on the organization. “The only challenge for us that’s really big and looming is that we lost all of our tuition income. That’s gone and we’re providing this free of charge,” Graves stated. “So we’ve had to go into a pretty big fundraising mode, and a lot of people are trying to really help us with that. We’re fundraising like crazy.”
Community members have also helped get the word out about EWECC’s complimentary child care for essential workers. “Sag Harbor Partnerships really helped. I want to give them a big thank-you. They hired a runner for us to put our fliers up, because our essential work force, some of them are looking at the papers and online, but we also had to get the word out,” Graves explained. “They put up flyers from Montauk all the way up to the canal, letting people know that there was this free daycare available. They also gave us a donation, which was wonderful.”
Graves stressed that essential workers across the East End may take advantage of the free daycare. “One of the misnomers is people think that you have to be from East Hampton,” she relayed. “We’re here. If families want to use the Center, they do need to register their children, but it’s a shortened more simplistic registration and it’s right at our website.”
Graves and EWECC have truly been touched by the outpouring of support so far. “Jerry Larson, who is going to be running for mayor, took his campaign fundraising and he gave it to the Center instead – to help us move along,” Graves shared. “One of our board members, Ken Quay, has also been just really instrumental.”
“Alec Baldwin is a real friend to the Center and a really dear friend of Eleanor Whitmore. He has also been working on our behalf,” she explained. “He’s been a friend to the Center for years. This is critical that we do this fundraising and I just wanted to give him a shout out for his help.”
EWECC is open during their normal operating hours: Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
“People that are friends of the Center have really been getting the word out. So that’s been wonderful, and our board has been working on it,” she shared. “I’ve only been here eight weeks and I’m learning to get the word out and let people know that we do need donations to get us through this time, because again, we don’t have any tuition revenue coming in. We did apply for a grant with our bank to keep all of our folks employed.”
“I want to thank the police, they have been so supportive, everybody has been incredibly supportive. We’ve been in the community for 15 years,” she noted. “And it’s really great to get the message out that we’re going to make it through this time, and we’re here to support the whole East End.”
In addition to financial assistance, there is one item that EWECC currently needs. “One of the things we’re looking for critically right now is non touch thermometers, because you can’t find them in the stores right now. We only need a couple,” she said. “We do a well check when children come in. We have pretty strong protocols – like everybody’s wearing masks when they’re in public areas, we use gloves, we do well checks when children come in the building, because we want to make sure that everybody stays safe during this time.”
Since its inception in 1997, EWECC, the sole not-for-profit educational organization that offers full-day, year-round child care in East Hampton, has welcomed over 4,000 children.
“To paraphrase Mr. Rogers, it’s really amazing that during the state of emergency to look up and see so many helpers,” Graves concluded. “They said during these times you look for your helpers and during these weeks the Eleanor Whitmore Center has seen so much help and so much support. I just want to put out a big thank-you to our East End Community.”
Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center is located at 2 Gingerbread Lane in East Hampton. For more information about Child Care for Essential Workers, call 631-324-5560 or visit ewecc.org/essential-workers. To donate to Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center, visit ewecc.org/donate.