Only two or three weeks into the start of the pandemic here in the US, I decided to purge my life of social media. Every single time I opened up Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, I would be greeted by a deluge of disheartening stories – deaths of loved ones or far-off friends, citizens acting selfishly and putting others in danger, outrage at the way this or that was handled. I was being washed away in a sea of grief and anger. But even though it can seem that way sometimes, those kinds of stories aren’t the only thing out there. Mr. Rogers (of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood fame) once quoted his mother giving comfort in time of fear – “Look for the helpers.” So that’s what we did.
After production was shut down due to the stay-at-home order, Whetstone Chocolates decided to donate Easter chocolate to local hospital staff, police, and emergency workers in an effort to brighten their spirits. Workers at Flagler Hospital, The Mayo Clinic St. Augustine, City of St. Augustine Police and Fire Department, and the St. Augustine Beach Police Department received chocolate rabbits and eggs and chocolate-dipped peeps.
The Girl Scouts of Gateway Council had a similar idea and donated (with the help of a number of generous companies and individuals) more than 20,000 boxes of cookies to health heroes throughout Northeast Florida. Our local Girl Scouts made the drop to the staff at Flagler Health+. The St. Augustine Bojangles’ too donated 100 meals to the hospital staff with the help of its drive-thru patrons. A portion of the drive-thru sales was donated, and more than 70 customers added an additional donation for the fund.
Healthcare workers haven’t been the only ones on the hearts of the community, though. After restaurants were shut down and many servers, bartenders, chefs, and dishwashers temporarily lost their paychecks, The Floridian set up a free grocery store for industry workers. With dairy, cheese, eggs, bread, veggies, and pre-prepared meals, restaurant workers could bring in their most recent pay stub and “shop” for free.
As all non-essential businesses shuttered, Marineland Dolphin Adventure too shut their doors. But that didn’t mean that all that time had to go to waste, so they welcomed the trainers and dogs of K9s for Warriors into the park. The future service dogs got to explore the grounds and meet the dolphins and sea turtles.
There are too many stories to share here – free coffee and meals at local shops and restaurants, people reaching out their hands to the elderly and infirm, programs to support those most impacted. Amidst the din of frightening and frustrating news, there are brilliant glimmers of the good of humanity. The owners of the Floridian encompassed the attitude felt by so many, “Anything we can do to alleviate the blow in some small way, we will – as long as the lights are on and the fires are burning.”