POLK COUNTY — There’s an old adage, something to the effect of “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
The spread of 2019 Novel Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has caused many things to change in the communities in and around Polk. Despite that, many local residents are doing what they can to help friends, neighbors and even strangers — from making homemade medical masks, to supporting local restaurants, to donating to organizations for the elderly and more, residents are rising to the occasion.
As a former Winter Haven Hospital employee, Cheyenne Richards, 26, knows the importance of having the proper safety equipment at work. The pandemic has created a critical shortage in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) all over the world including locally.
“I read on Facebook that the hospital needed masks and other PPE items,” Richards said. “I sew clothes for my kids, so I figured I could make them.”
And, make them she has.
So far, Richards has sewn and donated about 70 masks. After viewing a YouTube video submitted by a registered nurse on how to make them, Richards got to work cutting them out and then sat down at her sewing machine.
“The hardest part is getting the fabric cut,” she said. “It only takes about ten minutes to sew one and the more you make, the faster you get.”
Richards said that a hospital representative stops by to pick up the masks every day.
“It’s up to the community to help out,” Richards said. “If the doctors and nurses get sick who will take care of us?”
Taking care of people is what Ingrid Burch, public relations representative for Good Shepherd Hospice, does daily. Now, during the pandemic, she has been rallying local businesses and caring individuals to donate items needed for assisted living facilities.
In the past few days, some of the items she’s received include strawberries, fresh-cut flowers and big rocks — yes, big rocks — to help make the days of quarantines more bearable in these facilities.
“I reach out to these facilities to see if there’s anything they need,” she explained.
Residents made a strawberry cake with strawberries from Farmer Jacks, enjoyed Honey Bell oranges from Davidson’s of Dundee and painted cheerful designs on rocks donated by Mulch and More.
“Many of the residents don’t have a lot of family. This (COVID-19) is just making their isolation worse,” Burch explained.
To donate to Good Shepherd Hospice’s COVID-19 relief efforts in local assisted living facilities, call 813-871-8444.
Bonnie Parker and Kim Harris, two Winter Haven businesswomen, say they wanted to help local small businesses during this time — specifically restaurants.
So, they created the Facebook page “Rally Around Our Restaurants,” designed originally as a way to encourage residents to purchase gift cards to create cash flow for the locally-owned businesses.
“As a former restaurant owner, I can’t imagine it being the only form of income we had during a time like this,” Harris said. “I knew we had to do something.”
The top rule of the page is “We're all in this together to rally around our restaurant community & support them during this difficult time. Post photos! Give shout-outs! Keep it positive. Keep it respectful. They need us right now so let's show them some love.”
After less than two weeks, the page has nearly 10,000 enthusiastic followers who are not only buying gift cards, but getting meals to go, as well.
With positive comments like, “We are just amazed about the postings but most of all learning about restaurants we never knew existed!!!! Time to start trying all of them out” and “Once this is over, don’t let this page die,” it seems the effort has been a success so far.
Local and chain restaurants are welcome, but Parker and Harris are adamant that the page only supports restaurants.
The kindness doesn’t stop there, either.
Other examples of the community rising to the occasion include Michelle Daily, a local Swim TOTTs instructor, rallying about a dozen local ladies to make enough rice to feed 200-350 at the Mission of Winter Haven last week; an anonymous group in Davenport handed out bottled water and brown bag lunches; a friend dropped off a thermometer to a self-quarantined couple; the Winter Haven Worship Center encouraged folks to write a note of encouragement for nursing home residents; and Gnooch’s Deli offered to purchase hard-to-find items for anyone from their suppliers.