For two decades, Hilliard resident and Patches of Light founder Mindy Atwood has provided financial and material assistance to families of critically and terminally ill children.

Her mission has expanded during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, which has presented a new set of problems for families who depend on her nonprofit organization.

Meanwhile, the resources that she depends on to provide help, such as school-based and public fundraisers, have been derailed because of businesses closures and other limitations on public gatherings to limit the spread of the virus since mid-March.

"In the beginning, I panicked and even cried, wondering how I would do it," said Atwood, 62, who founded Patches of Light in 2000.

But the families who rely on her gave her the determination to double her efforts to write personal letters to previous donors and for the first time to utilize GoFundMe, an online resource to seek charitable contributions, she said.

Meanwhile, Atwood continues to provide the same support for families she has in the past and even has expanded, including making masks by hand for families to use during the pandemic.

"A lot of the families I serve need masks," she said, because in many instances, their children suffer from other illnesses that make them particularly at risk for the coronavirus.

"I came up with my own pattern for making masks," Atwood said.

She said she can make about 20 per hour.

"Most of them I make for the families who have children with compromised immune systems, but I have also made them for health-care workers," including those at Nationwide Children's Hospital, she said.

The masks are a washable blend of cotton and polyester, Atwood said.

Atwood makes the masks at her Hilliard residence but also on occasion at Patches of Light's small office near Upper Arlington.

Families of immune-compromised children need the masks because of the risk of those parents being exposed to the coronavirus and returning home, Atwood said.

The pandemic adds another challenge to such families because in many instances, the care provider that parents might have used no longer is a safe option during the pandemic, causing parents to leave children home alone, Atwood said.

"Often for longer than ordinary lengths of time because parents have to drive to multiple places to find everything and then wait in long lines at each place," she said.

At other times, Atwood finds parents need a little emotional support, she said.

"In many instances, the pandemic is just more stress at a stressful time," said Atwood, who has sent books, such as "It's Okay Not to Be Okay," to parents. "I want them to know they are not alone in how they feel."

Even as the pandemic continues, Atwood said, she cannot lose sight of the traditional assistance Patches of Light provides, such as the $500 the organization recently gave to Hilliard resident Teresa Suchecki, whose 15-year-old adopted daughter, Tarissa, has a congenital birth defect that affects her intestinal tract.

Tarissa was born at 32 weeks and has short-bowel syndrome and bilateral hearing loss.

She has regular gastroenterology checkups at Nationwide Children's Hospital, but she recently required additional treatments.

"I was missing a lot of work and had even run out of my PTO, but a social worker referred me to (Patches of Light)," said Suchecki, who was not familiar with the organization until Atwood reached out.

The gift will help with living expenses for the family, which includes Tarissa's 15-year-old brother, Brandon, Suchecki said.

Patches of Light has also extended its help outside of Hilliard during the pandemic.

Atwood is working with the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx borough of New York City. She recently sent gift cards there.

"I've never seen anything like this – no one has – and I want to help however I can," Atwood said.

Local history

Atwood said she has lived in Hilliard most of her life, since she was a second-grader at J.W. Reason Elementary School.

She and her husband, Rodney, have four adult sons ages 37 to 40: Rodney, Jason, Josh and Michael. They have five grandchildren; a sixth was stillborn in August from trisomy 18, a genetic condition in which a child is born with an extra chromosome.

After the experience, Atwood founded Jaxson's Light, an outreach in which the organization provides support for parents of children with trisomy 18.

But the origins of Patches of Light begin with her family's own experience with ill children.

One of Atwood's sons, Jason, was treated for pediatric cancer, and another, Michael, had open-heart surgery for a heart defect, she said.

After her children recovered, Atwood and her family began helping other families at the hospital and in the community. Those efforts eventually developed into Patches of Light.

"Once so much money was being collected and dispersed, we decided we needed to be accountable to our donors, and so we incorporated in 2000," Atwood said.

The nonprofit dispersed about $100,000 last year under the oversight of an 11-member board of directors that includes president Terri Botsko.