How pandemic is encouraging community, creativity in Port Huron region

Drive -thru and pick-up lanes have been established in downtown Port Huron to help patrons do their business quickly.
When March began, the community was looking forward to spring, vacations and just getting past a full moon. But one week ago that all changed when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and the government began establishing a new normal, leaving many of us with a plethora of questions many of which can't be answered yet.


Schools have shuttered for at least two weeks, theaters and concert venues are closed, restaurants are only able to serve carry out or drive-up, and just about everyone has had to learn to roll with the punches because guidelines and regulations are changing every day, sometimes every hour. People are being asked to create social distance, and that means staying home and away from others as much as possible, but that change is having a huge ripple effect across our communities.


Adapting quickly to these changes has been necessary for Andrea Shifflett whose business, Cafe Nola, opened just a few weeks ago. They are planning to stay open as long as they are allowed, serving up food and drinks just like any other day. However, they will be temporarily closing Sundays, until the virus runs its course.


She says they've decided to take the time to spend with family.


"I know that marketing and being creative will get us through this," she says.


Her team has worked to create special order bundles for families looking for coffee treats, breakfast or lunch, and will bring orders to the door for those not comfortable heading into the building.


It's all about being flexible and being creative to help each other survive. Many downtown businesses have been working together and promoting each other to encourage patrons during this unusual time. Most businesses that are still open not only offer carryout service, but will bring orders curbside to your car, or have added delivery.


The city of Port Huron has even created drive-through and pick up lanes in front of businesses to encourage people to stop in while giving them quick and easy access.


While some people are able to enjoy a carryout meal from their favorite restaurant during this time, there are many wondering where their next meal will come from, especially children who count on breakfast and lunch at school each day. Quick thinking and turnaround have alleviated those concerns, as school districts across the county have created pickup and drop off zones to ensure all students under age 18, or, 26 and younger for students with special needs, get two meals a day for each weekday.


At Landmark Academy, meals are being delivered at each of the school's bus stops each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, through March 27. Delivery times begin around 10 a.m. and end at about noon.


In the Port Huron Area School District food is being distributed at various locations including Garfield Elementary, Port Huron Northern, Indian Trails Mobile Home Park, Brandymore Pines, Port Huron High School, and Port Huron Literacy Academy at Cleveland Elementary. More than 3,000 meals were given on the first day. Pick up times are 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Anyone can pick up meals for the children.

Teachers in Port Huron prepare work packets to send home to studentsThose nutritious meals are needed to keep children thinking while on hiatus from the classroom.

As children are doing schoolwork at home, teachers are sharing lessons online, posting videos and doing all they can to assist parents to keep learning moving forward. Even though libraries are closed, staff members are working hard behind the scenes to share free eLearning resources.


Other business owners, like Shay Magnes of Anytime Fitness in Marysville, have increased their social media and online presence.
Magnes has shared workouts and is keeping up with her clients via social media to motivate them and keep them moving.


"I just want them to stay motivated and active, plus exercise is so good for your mental health and immune system," she says.


"For my members, I feel like the gym was an escape, a place to have 'me time' and focus on it breaks my heart to know they don't have that and who knows for how long."


Everything about this pandemic and social distancing is new, so it is going to take a village to find a clear path through.

Leaders across the area are working hard to make sure everyone comes through the situation OK. The Community Foundation of St. Clair County has created a new fund to help those directly affected by COVID-19.

Landmark Academy staff make a quick stop at Kate's Downtown for caffeine and to support a local business.

"The Community Foundation is a trusted place for giving and we want to be able to provide the public a safe place to make a donation and assure that 100 percent of funds raised are used locally in response to coronavirus,” says Randa Jundi-Samman, board chair of the Community Foundation of St. Clair County.


Gifts made to the fund will support local nonprofit organizations, schools, and units of local government who are on the front lines of helping manage this evolving crisis in the Port Huron region.

Jundi-Samman says because the coronavirus outbreak is still in its early stages in our region, there is tremendous uncertainty over how the virus will impact our community now and in the weeks and months that follow.

One hundred percent of donations given to the COVID-19 relief fund will go directly to the recipients, with no administrative fees.


The Community Foundation believes coordination is vital in getting critical resources to local communities most impacted by the virus and will be distributing them on a rolling basis as long as there is a need. Those who wish to donate can do so here. Those in need of funds can apply here.

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