Fighting COVID-19 and Hunger

Zack Couzens’ family tackled COVID-19 last Spring, inspiring his Eagle Scout Project to give back to the Northern Westchester Hospital with a memorial garden.

In early March as the New York lockdown began, Zack Couzens and his family were one of the first in Putnam County to contract COVID-19.

“It was a totally different experience than what was going on around me,” Zack said.

At that time, far less was known about the virus; No one was wearing masks because the CDC was saying to save the masks for nurses and doctors.

“We had no idea what was going on,” Zack said, “We had no one else to look to”.

While Zack and his brother were asymptomatic, his parents weren’t as lucky: Both were hospitalized a week after they became ill in early March. His mother was in the hospital for a week and his father was on a ventilator for a week and ultimately spent a total of five weeks in the hospital – where he was originally turned away before taking a chest x-ray that revealed the extent of his infection and led to his admission.

Zack’s dad was one of the first people in his over-60 age group to come off the ventilator and survive. While his dad has largely recovered physically and cognitively in the months following his return home in April, Zack said, “My dad will never be 100% cognitively; He is always going to be recovering”.

When Zack and his brother were home alone as both of their parents were treated in the hospital, someone from the hospital checked on them every day to make sure that they were doing and feeling alright.

The support was appreciated. Zack credits the Northern Westchester Hospital for his Dad’s recovery and for looking after him and his brother; “The hospital did everything they could in the best way”.

The hospital has indeed played a vital role in his family’s life. 17 years ago, Zack was born at Northern Westchester Hospital. He arrived ten weeks early, weighing only 2 pounds and 13 ounces going, and spent the first 42 days of his life in the Intensive Care Unit for premature babies.

When Zack’s Eagle Scout Project came around, an opportunity for a Boy Scout to demonstrate leadership by starting a project that benefits their community, he wanted to give back to the hospital community’s healthcare workers in some way and commemorate those affected by COVID-19 as well.

To date, Zack has built 27 raised garden beds with the help of friends from his town and his Boy Scout Troop. He plans to continue this for his Hackley Senior Project this spring when the change of season will enable him to plant produce and complete the project. The food grown in the garden will go to local organizations that help people that face food insecurity – which is a significant (and growing) problem fueled by the staggering number of job losses over the past year.

“I think it’s a really good thing we’re doing,” Zack said, “The hospital has been so grateful”.

The story of Zack’s inspired project has been featured on News 12; “It felt really good knowing that other people would see and hear about my cause. With all the scariness of COVID-19, I think it’s good to hear about something positive coming out of it and that we should continue to give back to our community whenever we can”, he said.