During the COVID-19 pandemic, frontline workers need masks and morale-boosters. Teri Schultz visits a Belgian sweet shop that offers both.
Like most Belgian confectioners big and small, artisanal chocolatier Genevieve Trepant made the difficult decision to close down her retail shop near Namur when the country went into confinement in mid-March. During normal Easter seasons, her handmade creations would be bringing in profit that would help her stay afloat until Christmas.
"We need Easter," she said solemnly. "Otherwise, the year is over and you're in problems."
"What do I do now?"
A few days into the lockdown, she received a photo of a chocolate bunny with a face mask. She's not even sure who took the photo or where it was from but she thought it portrayed a droll sense of humor about being a confectioner in confinement so she shared it on her website with a message about keeping spirits up during lockdown.
The next morning her phone started ringing off the hook. Suddenly everyone was ordering masked rabbits she wasn't making. "It went crazy, crazy, crazy!" Trepant laughed. "And I said what do I do now?"
After a brief moment of panic, she did what many other desperate people have done to help cope with this crisis: She started making masks.
Rolling out sheets of white fondant, Trepant cuts the tiny squares and fastens them carefully over the smiles of her smiling bucktoothed bunnies. She has to be quick, she explains, as the white chocolate "fastener" dries almost instantly.
Trepant is donating all profits -- and as many bunnies as possible -- to her local hospital network.
Helping the helpers
Describing her feelings as she does this almost brings her to tears. "When I'm doing that, it's like I'm in union with what's happening in the world and what's happening in the hospitals," she explained. She's giving 100% of her profits to help those who need real-life equipment the most: healthcare workers. Additionally, Trepant's customers can donate bunnies which will be delivered directly to staff at her local hospital network.
Orders have overwhelmed her one-woman operation and Trepant's community is pitching in. Answering the constant phone calls is her friend Caroline Sheid, a graphic artist under normal circumstances who's currently dealing with shipping problems. Hugues Griffroy, who lives up the road and owns a packaging company, is providing Trepant with his products at cost. "COVID affects all of us," he told DW. "We all need to help one way or another and providing this packaging is one way to show solidarity."
Rafael Colard, a schoolteacher from across the street, picks up packages at night and delivers them to families who can't get out. He worries Trepant is not sleeping at all these days as he can see lights on in her workshop day and night. Lionel Duplicy, who helped Trepant launch her project, is facing the daunting challenge of figuring out how the donated bunnies will navigate hygiene procedures to be Easter treats at the nearby Saint Elisabeth hospital.
Outside the emergency entrance, Julien Hautefelt was taking a break from his long days running COVID-19 tests in the lab. He said he saw photos of the masked rabbits on social media and is delighted to hear they'll be delivered to his workplace. He said it will make an enormous difference to his colleagues.
"It seems like a small thing but I think this is a big thing," Hautefelt said, "because [we] can see how people are willing to help. Everybody will love it. They'll feel supported."
That's enough for Genevieve Trepant. "I'm very happy that I managed something," she said with a smile. "And that I'll have done my little bit."
She's also decided these won't be just "Easter" bunnies anymore. She'll continue making and delivering "solidarity rabbits" as long as Belgium stays in lockdown.