Tracey Gross says she's just another stay-at-home mom, but her community knows that's not the case.
The Long Neck mother of three is a community organizer who excels at connecting those who need help with those who can help.
Last year, when one of her neighbors in The Peninsula at Long Neck needed help, she was determined to provide a year's worth of meals.
It was the family of Nicole Bennett, a 35-year-old mother of three, who was murdered in June 2012 as she worked at Bay Shore Community Church near Dagsboro. Bennett's husband, Kevin, was left with three daughters, bills and not much of an idea of how to do it all.
“Nicole was the force behind the family, as many moms are,” Gross said. "Kevin is doing an amazing job, but his job now seems unimaginable. Meals were one thing I thought we could pitch in to take off his plate."
When Kevin received a slow cooker as a Christmas gift, Gross decided those donating meals could consider making a slow cooker meal and also give the recipe so Kevin can recreate it later.
Gross contacted the MOMS Club of Lewes to set up an online Food Tidings page. Food Tidings allows people to sign up for a meal in advance. Each day, Gross collects the meal for the evening and drops it off to the Bennetts. She is also collecting recipes for Kevin, who at the end of the year should have vastly increased his cooking knowledge.
“It was just something I knew was needed, and I am confident I can get enough people to donate meals for the year,” Gross said. “What happened to Nicole reminds us all that we aren't as safe as we think we are. It really woke me up, and made me pay better attention to my surroundings at all times. That's her legacy.”
Gross has organized an annual walk in Nicole's memory at The Peninsula. During the walk last year, she talked to Nicole's mother and mother-in-law who first expressed their concern for Kevin and the girls, spurring the idea for meal donations.
“I just took baby steps, and soon it was put together,” Gross said. She now has donations set up until May, but she is still seeking volunteers to cook a meal. For information on the Food Tidings page, contact her via email at email@example.com.
Volunteers from the MOMS Club, The Peninsula community and Long Neck Elementary School, where both Gross's children and the Bennett children attend school, are now helping the Bennett family. Gross is working to organize another event at the school later this year to benefit the Nicole Reiser Bennett Foundation.
Gross and her husband, Bobby, moved to Delaware from Kent Island. After Bobby started his business, Overhead Door, in Milford, the couple settled in The Peninsula, where they have lived happily for seven years.
Gross and her three children, Wyatt, 8, Savannah, 6, and Lindsay, 4, are often found walking the nature paths or swimming at the community pool.
“We moved here knowing no one, but the people have been so nice,” Gross said. “My husband loves to golf, so when we first toured The Peninsula, we both fell in love with it.”
Gross, 43, participates in Glow in the Dark golf, an annual event where residents play golf in the dark, using flashlights. She said she is less comfortable golfing in the daylight, but enjoys taking the kids to the driving range when it's warm.
Before she had her second child, Gross worked for Siemans, a technology company based in Malvern, Pa. She was a recruiter, so she could work from home in Long Neck. After Savannah was born, she knew she couldn't do both, so she quit her job to focus on her family.
Last year, Gross learned many Cape Region schools needed sweat pants for children who had accidents in school. Gross contacted the MOMS Club again, and soon sweat pants were pouring into the Clothing our Kids organization, which then divided them among the schools.
“When I see a need, I have a hard time forgetting about it, especially if I can do something to help,” Gross said.
The same was true two years ago when Gross helped with her son's annual book fair.
“I remembered how much fun I had at my book fairs as a kid, but then I realized that not all kids have the money for new books,” Gross said. “I wanted to do a donation table and slowly put the idea out there.”
Her idea was well received and last April, she collected enough books so every child in the elementary school could get a free one. She continued taking donations, and this year even more books will be given to students.
“Now that it's established, it is very easy to maintain,” said Gross. “So I think it will keep going.”
The family attends Mary Mother of Peace Catholic Church on Route 24 outside Millsboro but also enjoys attending community events at Bethel United Methodist Church in Lewes, where Lindsay attends preschool.
When she isn't organizing to help others, Gross is running with her two dogs or sweating during a Hot Yoga class at Soul Yoga.
“There's nothing a 3-mile run won't fix,” is her motto, and she makes sure she has at least an hour of fitness each day. “Exercise gives me that mental break that I need to organize and keep going.”
In the summer, the family enjoys taking the Cape May-Lewes Ferry to visit Gross's parents at Cape May Courthouse, N.J.
Her youngest, Lindsay, rushes into the room to remind Gross that she loves collecting sea glass when the family relaxes on Stone Harbor beach in New Jersey.
Realizing Lindsay left an ice pop on the wooden coffee table, Gross rises to clean it up.
“I love being a mom,” Gross says with a knowing smile. “It's never a chore.”