Making a Difference: Greenport woman starts blue lights campaign in support of essential workers during pandemic

It isn’t ideal these days to be going outside much, but Julie Bauer of Greenport has been painting the town — blue.

It’s part of a “Paint the Town Blue” campaign that Ms. Bauer and a friend, Alison Byers of Cutchogue, came up with to lift the spirits of front-line workers and others as the coronavirus pandemic continues. The idea was to distribute blue light bulbs and encourage residents and businesses to light them each night as a gesture of support for essential workers who have braved the COVID-19 threat to help keep the general population fed, safe, informed and comforted.

“I want the firemen, the policemen, the IGA workers, the nurses, the doctors, I want them to know that we light these lights every night for them,” Ms. Bauer said in a phone interview.

She said the idea stemmed from reading about a similar initiative in a town outside Philadelphia. Seeing it as a nice tribute to mothers as well, the effort began on Mother’s Day. Ms. Bauer said she has personally handed out about 150 light bulbs, but others have bought their own and some other people have been giving them away, too, for the cause.

Jennifer Benton of Greenport has been an instrumental help in distributing light bulbs, said Ms. Bauer. “As many as we can get we’ve given out,” she added.

Whenever Ms. Bauer gives someone a light bulb, she also includes a small card that explains the idea behind it. The campaign is the North Fork’s version of New York City residents banging pots and pans at 7 p.m. as a sign of appreciation for essential workers.

“It’s saying thank you to them, but it’s also saying to your next-door neighbor: ‘We’re in it together. We’re not alone through this,’ ” Ms. Bauer said.

“I think the other thing that’s sort of nice about it is it feels like it’s celebrating these people,” she continued. “There’s so much negativity going on right now between COVID and the racial injustice, just everything, the economy, all hitting people at once … With so much divisiveness, with so much anger, with so much negativity going on in our world right now, it just felt good to do something where we could all smile and show support to our community.”

Homes, restaurants and other retail establishments — even some that are closed — have put the blue lights up, said Ms. Bauer. She estimated that three-quarters of Greenport’s businesses already have them. Her goal is to the see the entire North Fork bathed in blue light at night.

What’s the biggest challenge right now?

Finding blue light bulbs.

“What I’ve found is that I can’t get enough blue bulbs,” said Ms. Bauer, who claims to have personally cleared the shelves of hardware stores and Home Depot in addition to placing orders on Amazon.

When it was suggested that she might be on a first-name basis with Home Depot employees by now, she said, “I think they think I’m kind of wacky.”

Ms. Bauer had worked in advertising and marketing before closing her own agency in New York City last year. “Right now I’m the blue bulb lady,” she quipped. “If there’s any place that’s selling blue bulbs that I haven’t heard of, I’d love to find them.”