When Ulster County opened two drive-through mobile pandemic testing sites in mid-March – at Tech City in Kingston and at the Ellenville Regional Hospital – county executive Pat Ryan posted an announcement on Facebook thanking Nuvance Health for organizing the effort.
Ryan also acknowledged one other major player in the project: Sav-On Party Rental, which has donated the use of five large tents, siding and heaters for these mobile clinics. Based in Kingston Plaza, the equipment rental company has also donated tents to be used for testing at Margaretville Hospital and for Project Resilience field headquarters at the Kingston YMCA and People’s Place.
This long-established local business has been owned and managed by Chelsea Becker’s family since her grandfather’s day. Becker, a Hurley resident, and one of her father’s longtime employees, Allison Gaston of Lake Katrine, took over joint proprietorship of Sav-On in 2018, when her father started having health problems and needed to retire. “This is usually the time of year that we start to get busy” providing canopies, tables and chairs for outdoor events, Becker said. But this spring business has come to a standstill, with large social gatherings postponed or canceled altogether.
Demand for their services took an entirely unexpected shape, however, when the owners received an e-mail in early March from an unidentified person requesting free “long-term” use of a tent for unspecified purposes. The Sav-On website at www.savonparty.com has a form where not-for-profit organizations can apply for donations or reduced rates on tent and other equipment rentals, so the request wasn’t anything new in itself. But long-term use is not economical, either for the renter or for Sav-On, and the company typically advises customers to buy their own equipment in such cases.
Then Gaston found herself listening to county executive Ryan talking about plans to set up mobile testing sites, and something clicked in her head. Clearly, this was an unprecedented situation where long-term tent use was required, with no money budgeted for it.
Before long Gaston and Becker were deep in phone negotiations with Buildings and Grounds officials at the Ulster County Department of Public Works, as well as Tech City staff. Arrangements were made for Sav-On to provide two 30-by-45-foot tents with siding to Ellenville Hospital for one month – an $18,728 value – and one 50-by-40-foot tent, one 30-by-45 and one 30-by-30, plus siding and heaters, to the Kingston site for four months, valued at $95,800. County comptroller March Gallagher wasn’t kidding when she expressed a “huge thank-you” on Facebook to Sav-On for making a “very large donation to get mobile testing up and running in Ulster County.”
As it turned out, demand for testing at the Ellenville site was too low to warrant continued large-scale operation in the hospital parking lot, and the tents were taken down and disinfected by a county contractor before being returned to Sav-On. “They’re doing testing under an overhang now,” Gaston reported. But visitation at the Tech City mobile testing site remains brisk. “We’re happy to do this as long as we can.”
“We’re trying to make it all work,” Becker agreed. “Allison and I both feel strongly that we should give back as often as we can. We both grew up around here, and we’re part of the community.”
For additional information about the mobile testing process, visit https://covid19.ulstercountyny.gov/mobile-testing.