COVID-19 community updates

  • Laura Sabolefski, a employee of Red Fire Farm in Montague, brings soil over for starter plants, April 10. Red Fire Farm is one of the farms contributing fresh produce to the Community Food Distribution Project. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 6/22/2020 2:07:17 PM
Free COVID testing for farmworkers

The Big E in West Springfield is the site where any person who works on a farm can get a free test for COVID-19 on Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

You must have an appointment. To make one, call CISA at 413-551-2640 or the Pioneer Valley Workers Center at 413-351-2300 by Tuesday. Appointment times will be given on a first-come, first-served basis.

When people arrive for their appointment at the Big E testing site, they must be in a vehicle. One form of identification is required, which must at a minimum have your name on it (e.g. drivers’ license, work ID, library card, or a bill such as utility or phone). At the testing site, each person being tested will be given information on how to access results online or on the phone.

CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) has arranged this day and previous free testing opportunities with the support of Sen. Jo Comerford, Rep. Natalie Blais, and the state Department of Fire Services.

Farmers and farmworkers can call CISA or the Pioneer Valley Workers Center to set up appointments and to get more information about the testing. Both organizations can also provide a list of other sites in Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties that offer testing on a regular basis.

Renew license now; upgrade to REAL ID in 2021 for free

The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles is encouraging all eligible customers to renew their standard Massachusetts driver’s license or Massachusetts ID card online at Mass.Gov/RMV any time between now and Aug. 12, in order to qualify for a free upgrade to a REAL ID credential in 2021.

This one-time, time limited offer is available to most customers who have an expired or expiring license or ID card dated between March 2020 and August 2021, as renewals are allowed up to two years after expiration, or up to a year in advance of the expiration date printed on their license or ID.

Qualifying customers who complete their renewal online prior to Aug. 12 and wish to upgrade to a REAL ID for free, will have to wait until at least February 2021 to visit an RMV Service Center.

At this time, customers will not need a federally compliant REAL ID for the purposes of boarding domestic flights prior to Oct. 1, 2021, because the federal government delayed the compliance effective date by one-year. The fee for obtaining a standard or REAL ID license is $50, while the fee for obtaining a standard or REAL ID card is $25. The typical $25 upgrade / amendment fee will be waived under these qualifying circumstances. A limited digital campaign — “Stay Safe, Save Time, Go Online” — will also accompany this promotion and can be viewed online.

Obtaining an initial federally compliant REAL ID requires all customers to visit a Service Center in-person to present verifying documents. The RMV has introduced this initiative and fee waiver pursuant to Executive Order 39 issued by Gov. Charlie Baker on June 12, 2020, and in light of the COVID-19 public health emergency to encourage social distancing and limit unnecessary travel by reducing the need for many customers to visit a Service Center, and allowing for the prioritization of essential in-person needs by appointment-only.

Customers should take the following steps to determine their online renewal eligibility and to qualify for this offer:

Visit Mass.Gov/RMV, log in to their “myRMV” account, and find out if they are permitted to renew online.

Renew online by Aug. 12 — your new standard license or ID card will be sent via U.S. mail.

The cost for renewing a driver’s license is $50. The cost for renewing an ID card is $25. These costs are the same for both a standard or REAL ID license or ID card. The cost for upgrading or amending a license or ID card outside of your renewal cycle is $25, which will be waived for participating, eligible RMV customers.

Customers who renew online will have to wait until at least February 2021 to make an appointment for a REAL ID and have their $25 upgrade / amendment fee waived. Anyone who holds a valid U.S. passport or other federally compliant form of identification may never need a RMV-issued REAL ID.

As a service to its members, AAA continues to issue REAL ID credentials for their members only and members should make an appointment before visiting an AAA location.

While the RMV has previously announced the below automatic extensions to certain expiring licenses and ID cards, all eligible customers are encouraged to take advantage of this offer by renewing online prior to Aug. 12.

■Driver’s licenses and ID cards that expired or will expire in March, April, and May 2020 will now expire in September 2020.

■Driver’s licenses and ID cards that will expire in June have been extended until October 2020.

■Driver’s licenses and ID cards that will expire in July have been extended until November 2020.

■Driver’s licenses and ID cards that will expire in August have been extended until December 2020.

All RMV customers are encouraged to visit Mass.Gov/RMV to renew their license or ID card, and complete one of over 40 other transactions available online, by mail, or by phone.

For details on these and other credential expiration date extensions and additional information on RMV service offerings during the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit or

Freedom Credit Union reopening branch lobbies

Freedom Credit Union, headquartered in Springfield and serving members in the four counties of western Massachusetts, has begun a phased reopening of its branch lobbies including its Northampton office.

The branch lobby is open with reduced hours to start — Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon. Drive-up windows are open Monday through Wednesday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursday and Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon. The Easthampton branch is scheduled to open July 6.

Freedom Credit Union has taken additional measures to help protect their staff and members inside their branch locations, including:

■Stationing a greeter at the entrance to limit access based on occupancy limits. Members and visitors will be asked for ID when entering the office and will be directed to an available representative.

■Providing hand sanitizer for member use when entering and exiting the branches.

■Requiring all employees and members to wear masks while within the branch, and redirecting members who do not have a mask to the drive-up window.

■Following the social distancing requirements established by the CDC, including marking 6-foot distances in branch lobbies and removing or reducing seating in lobby areas.

■Installing plexiglass shields on teller lines and new member account desks.

■Closing restrooms to the public.

■Asking people who are sick or who have encountered someone with the COVID-19 virus to refrain from visiting FCU branches or drive-up windows.

$35K grant boosts HCC studentemergency fund

The Holyoke Community College President’s Student Emergency Fund received a surge in applications after COVID-19 broke.

The fund, established by President Christina Royal through the HCC Foundation, is meant to assist students facing unanticipated financial burdens, such as a lack of affordable housing, child care expenses and transportation.

For the 2019-20 academic year, 93% of student requests to the fund have come since mid-March. As HCC transitioned to remote learning, nearly $25,000 has been distributed to help students facing income loss and struggling to pay their bills in the midst of the pandemic.

“We are talking about an average gift of $500,” said Amanda Sbriscia, HCC vice president of institutional advancement and executive director of the HCC Foundation, the college’s nonprofit fundraising corporation. “That is often the difference between staying on a path to a college degree or never being able to return to the classroom.

“Studying and learning remotely has meant added an unanticipated expenses for our students. Faster internet, upgraded technology, housing and food costs, utility bills — seemingly simple shifts in daily life are easy to manage for some, but for many HCC students, they can derail their entire education.”

The President’s Student Emergency Fund at HCC received a $35,000 boost in the form of a grant from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts designated for COVID-19 relief. The HCC Foundation was one of 29 area nonprofits receiving financial assistance in the latest round of COVID-19 relief funds from the Community Foundation.

With the Community Foundation grant, the HCC Foundation has now raised $72,480 for the President’s Student Emergency Fund since late March when it launched the “TogetherHCC” fundraising campaign in response to the pandemic, placing the total amount of dollars available for student relief at $190,000.

The largest single donation to the campaign was $20,000 from HCC alumna Margaret “Peg” Wendlandt ’58 and her husband, Gary, who have supported the emergency fund since it was established three years ago. The rest of the contributions have come in much smaller increments from 160 individual donors and area businesses.


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