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HK Local Heroes Project Salutes Three KAA Members

By Clark Judge. 

Three members of the Killingworth Ambulance Association were honored Saturday, May 23, 202 for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

KAA honoree Marguerite Haaga (L) and HK Local Heroes Project founder Beth Gagliardi (R)

Marguerite Haaga, Dan Siegel and Lisa Anderson – all EMTs – were given awards by the HK Local Heroes Project after it solicited nominations from local townspeople. The three were among 78 persons to receive gifts or gift certificates that Beth Gagliardi, who originated the HK Local Heroes Project, and friend Amy Armstrong Koepke handed out Saturday morning at Irene Sheldon Park.

The event was informal, with rewards spread out on picnic tables, and the weather was uncooperative. It was raining, forcing Gagliardi to seek shelter by moving the function to the Sheldon pavilion. What’s more, Haaga was the only KAA member able to appear. Siegal was on an ambulance call, and Anderson was out of town.

Nevertheless, that didn’t diminish the gratitude Haaga felt for being recognized.

“It’s very nice,” she said. “I was a little surprised it was going to be me. I like working under the radar.”

That’s not easy for someone as active as Haaga. Vice president of the Killingworth Ambulance Association’s board of directors, she works with husband Mike as a paramedic in Bridgeport and joins him teaching EMT classes and American Heart Association courses. That puts her in the public domain, and the public has responded lately – with Haaga admitting she’s been the recipient of unexpected salutes the past two months, often by persons she doesn’t know.

“That’s probably the biggest thing,” she said. “Between Bridgeport and here there are a lot of thumbs-up and thank-yous, and that’s what affects you the most. It’s people who drive up to you that you don’t even know.”

That happened last week when a driver she didn’t recognize gained her attention, gave her a thumbs-up and blew a kiss through a mask. It happened in Bridgeport, but, as Haaga conceded, it could’ve been anywhere. Similar gestures of support are not uncommon, she said, and she is appreciative.

“You know people are thinking about you,” she said, “and that they know you’re working directly on patients.”

Which is precisely the point of the HK Local Heroes Project. Gagliardi, a sixth-grade teacher at Haddam-Killingworth Middle School, began the Project to remind persons on the front lines of the COVD-19 pandemic – persons like Marguerite Haaga – that, as Haaga said, “people are thinking about you.”  With the help of her family, Gagliardi launched the HK Local Heroes Project on her personal Facebook page. The response was as enormous as it was immediate, so she expanded to town pages.

And then, as she put it, “it grew from there.”

With dozens of nominations and donations from local businesses and individuals, Gagliardi and her family chose awards by lottery on Facebook Live. Donations ranged from gift certificates for local restaurants and fitness facilities to window cleaning and two heart-shaped blacksmith hooks. Haaga received a bracelet donated by Lynn Gallant.

“Very, very nice,” she said. “They thought of me, and that’s great.”

Unfortunately, not all could receive prizes. There were over twice as many nominations (187) as awards (78). Hence the lottery. But those who didn’t win were encouraged to swing by Sheldon Park and pick up one of the many Thirty-One bags donated by Cindy Pitts.

They’re also told to stay tuned.

“Moving forward,” said Gagliardi, “I would like to continue this, perhaps raffling off one gift certificate a week. All of the additional raffle numbers are still in the (lottery) bowl. I think it’s important to maintain this support and momentum. What we can do will be contingent on donations.”

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