Frontline Heroes: Delivering food, a friendly face to those with mental illness in Northern Virginia

EDITOR’S NOTE: During the coronavirus pandemic, there are people throughout the community working on the front lines. WTOP is honoring essential personnel through its Frontline Heroes campaign. Each day, WTOP chooses two nominees, awards each $100 and donates another $100 to Feed the Fight DC, a D.C.-based nonprofit supporting local restaurants, health care workers and first responders during the pandemic. Some of those honorees will be spotlighted on

Dennis Shannon looked at the list of previous Frontline Heroes who were nominated for the work they are doing during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m very honored to be among them, and I’m very impressed with the diversity of occupations that are represented on that list.”

Shannon works with a team that helps people with severe mental illness in Northern Virginia. Most of the people he helps live in their own apartments.

“My team and I have been going out and delivering medications and food. And the food has been donated by friends and neighbors who have sort of heard that my clients sometimes aren’t getting food, because a lot of the places that my clients have gone to get food are either not available, or it’s just very crowded and they’re very confused on how to access it.

So my friends and neighbors have actually given me food. They will just put food on my stoop, and I load up my car the next day and take it to my clients,” Shannon said.

Although some of his clients are isolated from the pandemic because of their disability, they are afraid.

“They don’t, a lot of times, know what’s going on,” Shannon said. “They don’t understand something mysterious like a virus and people wearing masks can be frightening to folks that are symptomatic with mental illness, especially serious mental illness.”

Another thing Shannon said his clients are experiencing are breaks in their routines.

For example, if his clients need to get labs done, in the past, they could just walk up and get it done, but with the coronavirus restrictions, they would have to make an appointment.

And although their condition may limit their exposure to the coronavirus, Shannon said that they might be missing contact with family and friends who are self-isolating and not able to check in on them.

“It’s not the same as having that direct contact,” he said.

Shannon said that his clients have been very grateful to see him — masks, gloves and all — when he brings them food.

“I love what I do. I love my team. I have a great team, and we’re very supportive of each other. We joke and have fun and, and the clients … I’m very fond of my clients, and I’m really grateful that I have a job that I can help people,” Shannon said.

Shannon believes that living during a pandemic could make people experience feelings of depression and anxiety, and it is even more so for people who have a serious mental illness.

What will he do with his $100 award? He’s donating it to Feed the Fight, a D.C.-based nonprofit supporting local restaurants, health care workers and first responders during the pandemic.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

WTOP’s Mike Murillo contributed to this report.

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