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Chris Franklin: Giving comfort to the essential

In the face of this unprecedented global pandemic, new phrases like “social distancing” and “flatten the curve” have quickly entered our American lexicon.

But as government officials, business owners and front line personnel around the world grapple with challenges we never could have imagined just weeks ago, there is one single word that pointedly carries more weight in our new reality: essential.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, there probably weren’t many people who mulled over the word “essential” as much as I had.

Just two months ago, the utility company I lead changed its name from Aqua America to Essential Utilities while acquiring Peoples, a natural gas utility. In choosing our new name, we spent countless hours discussing the vital role our people play in sustaining everyday American life through the delivery of water and natural gas and the treatment of wastewater.

We had deep and renewing conversations, absent of coronavirus, and concluded that essential was the only word that could succinctly encapsulate the obligation we have to serve our communities. Now, at a time when many states are pleading with nonessential workers to stay home, our crews dutifully put fear aside, report to work and prove just how essential their work is.

Often, when we think of the front line of this fight against COVID-19 we must be grateful for the fearless healthcare professionals who treat the sick. However, we can’t forget the nearly 190,000 utility workers across the country who are also on the front line, working tirelessly to keep lights on, heat homes and hospitals and ensure water flows out of taps safely and reliably.

And we’re in good company. Approximately 3.5 million truck drivers transport goods like toilet paper and food to grocery stores in communities in each state. More than 200,000 postal workers, plus thousands of private delivery personnel, go out each day to deliver packages, medicine and critical supplies. Quite simply, these essential, everyday heroes enable quarantine by providing us the ability to remain safely and comfortably in our own homes with everything we need.

In the midst of this uncertain time, it’s important to recognize the bravery and dedication of these often-overlooked American workers. I encourage Ohioans to show appreciation to the essential workers across our region and the country. I hope you’ll join me by participating in a few of these simple ideas to spread kindness, demonstrate unity and show your gratitude for the sacrifice of our utility crews, other essential workers and their families during this time.

• Wave hi or give a “thumbs up” (safely from your window, porch or your car) if you see utility crews out and about in your neighborhood

• Hang a “thank you” sign in your window or on your door to greet utility crews, delivery drivers and postal workers

• Check on the family members of those essential workers you know— by phone or digitally, of course—to lend your support and acknowledge their sacrifices

I speak for all Essential employees when I say it is a great privilege to be essential to our national fight against COVID-19, and I know that so many other essential workers feel the same. We recognize one undeniable, poignant truth. When we deliver natural resources and essential services, we really deliver comfort – something every citizen needs amid this national trauma. I thank those citizens in advance who take me up on my invitation to deliver some comfort in return. It will go a long way in sustaining our brave, essential, front-line, workers until we all emerge from the battle against coronavirus.