Stepping Up, Not Stepping Aside

No Shortage of Kindness in Great Lakes Bay Region During Crisis


First came the confusion, and on its heels were the frantic and hurried steps of concern.

Then came the swift and rejuvenating waters of the flood of compassion.

The consciousness of the nation was still at the first stages of wrapping its collective mind around what the new coronavirus was and meant when it was declared to be worldwide pandemic in mid-March. That label placed the United States in unmapped territory of personal health and safety measures residents were asked to observe in the immediate days and weeks that followed. It was simply human nature that the uncertainties of and unfamiliarity with the unfolding new narrative of reality elevated levels of shared anxiety and unsettled disquiet beyond the scope of anything that has come before in recent history.

Yet out of crisis, tales of personal bravery and humble heroics are born.

While many were still reeling with health, employment and financial fallout from COVID-19, the stories of basic human decency and the championing of the greater good began to emerge. The Great Lakes Bay Region was, and still is, no stranger to acts both large and small of kindness and caring in the face of calamity.

The local actions and undertakings were as inspirational as they were myriad and storied: armies of volunteers across shuttered school districts banding together to get students what they needed, hobbyists assembling in online cooperatives to do what they could to combat shortages in medical supplies, residents and business owners placing personal pressures and struggles aside to help those in need as well as those facing similar scenarios.

There’s no possible way to calculate every charitable act that was demonstrative of the human capacity for compassion – there were far too many, and many were completed under the quiet virtue of anonymity. However, Great Lakes Bay Magazine is highlighting a few efforts that encapsulated the sense of gracious individual altruism as well as the overarching regional outpouring of connectiveness that reflect and remind of the best in us all.


Placing Community Over Self

Bars and restaurants saw the immediate brunt of COVID-19 with the government’s request to close their doors to seated service. The subsequent statewide shutdown of all other nonessential businesses only compounded the problem as more workers found themselves unemployed and trying to stretch limited funds as far as they would go.

In late March, Greg Buzzard felt those pressures firsthand. The owner of That Guys BBQ, That Guys Meats, and Replenish Smoothie and Juice Bar in Bay City’s City Market was unsure that his businesses would weather the coronavirus storm.

But that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to help others.

Setting aside his own financial strains, Buzzard created a GoFundMe page March 20 with the intention of collecting donations to pay for meals he delivered to health care workers and first responders.

“We’ve always been a family-friendly and giving business, and a friend of mine reached out to me and we began collaborating on what we could do to help people,” Buzzard said. “The right thing is the right thing, and we just want to help take care of people.”

The first day he delivered meals to emergency-room and other hospital workers. The next day, he served members of the Bay City and Bangor Township fire departments as well as McLaren Bay Region EMS. The meals didn’t necessarily come from his own restaurants. He also used the funds to purchase meals from other City Market establishments.

“I’m just trying to spread the wealth by helping as many businesses and as many people as I possibly can,” Buzzard said. “At the end of the day, the good Lord isn’t going to look at the balance in my bank account. He’s going to look at my faith.”

That faith was fueling Buzzard’s hope that, when the crisis passed, his businesses would still be standing and could return to some semblance of normalcy.

“I don’t know how we’ll make it through, but I feel like I’ve been blessed as the owner of this business and I’m just trying to help people out,” he said. “Hopefully when this is all over, we’ll just try to rebuild.”


Can’t Work Doesn’t Mean Can’t Help

Being a health care worker didn’t prevent Lindsay Bliss from finding herself with limited work opportunities in March. The certified nursing aide in the Mount Pleasant area was feeling both financial and spiritual pains when the hospice facilities she worked for went on lockdown and required limited staffing.

Instead of succumbing to the depths of depression, Bliss opted to use her gift for helping others as part of her job in her personal life. Through a Facebook post, Bliss offered to run errands for those in her community who wouldn’t or shouldn’t venture outdoors.

“I’m kind of a busybody,” Bliss said. “Instead of just sitting at home, I started thinking about how I could be reaching out and helping people.”

From delivering meals to shopping for groceries and picking up prescriptions, Bliss said she was up for anything if it resulted in lending a helping hand to someone in need.

“One guy asked me to get dog food the other day, but I’ll provide things like transportation to medical appointments so people don’t have to rely on public transportation. It’s really any kind of errand they need,” Bliss said.

“It’s for anybody who is home and troubled about being in public right now, but there is an emphasis on senior citizens, people with immune deficiencies … people who might be compromised by being out in the public,” she added.

While Bliss said she was grateful for any opportunity to help make sure needs are met, she was also pleased to hear more and more stories similar to her own, and that selflessness and sacrifice were not in short supply during a time of emergency.

“I think the more that people see others stepping up, the more people will want to step up and do something and kind of pay it forward,” she said. “People want to help – and if there is just one small thing they can do, it’s going to help.”


Feeding the Bodies and Minds of Children

When schools in Michigan closed their doors to stem the tide of the coronavirus, school district staff and stakeholders across the region were dedicated to ensuring that students at home would still be provided with the breakfast and lunch meals they rely on through the education system. Logistics protocols were quickly assembled that allowed for meals to be delivered or picked up at specific locations.

“We are very fortunate in Coleman to have supportive community members; it’s the reason I came back to work in a small-town school, close to my hometown,” said Coleman Community Schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormack. “In difficult – and in this case, unprecedented – times, everyone pulls together. They want to help, and they think of others.”

The Coleman district established on online portal from its website that allowed volunteers to sign up to help in the endeavor. Even though the demand increased by roughly 1,200 meals in a week’s time and social distancing safeguards were put into effect, enough people were pitching it that the 3,000 breakfasts and lunches were ready to go within hours. McCormack said the Chartwells Food Service workers in the district were assisted by community members, teachers, custodians, bus drivers and attendants, secretaries, and office staff and administrators.

“I’d be rich if I had a dollar for every time I heard someone in the last two weeks say, ‘Whatever you need, just let me know.’” McCormack said in late March.

While the focus of the task was to make sure the stomachs of students remained filled, McCormack said her district also wanted to continue to provide nutrition for the young minds and keep kids intellectually stimulated and actively engaged in education through learning opportunities. Over time, staff created an educational/learning opportunities Google Drive broken down by grade and content areas.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that since day one, we’ve had teachers who are in contact with their students via Bloomz, Google Classroom, ClassDojo, Remind,” McCormack said. “They’ve created a Coleman Elementary Teachers Read-Aloud on Facebook. And kids are reading back to all of us.”

For students without internet access, the district delivered worksheets and books, and the district’s after-school program created a menu of activities for all K-12 students.

“I feel like my role is to provide resources and information in the most effective way I can in as timely a manner as possible. … If we all do what we are asked, we will come out of this stronger – and maybe even more appreciative,” McCormack said. “This group of people makes my job easy, and that’s where we get our hashtag #CometPride.”


Health Care Help from the Heavens

The spread of COVID-19 rode on such a rapid current that the medical community was blindsided and left scrambling for supplies. Major manufacturing powerhouses stepped up to aid in the creation of technological shortfalls on items such as ventilators, but individual hobby enthusiasts also stepped into the fray to do their part in the creation and distribution of face masks for health care personnel.

With social gatherings and events all but eliminated, the Costume Goddesses of the Midland Center for the Arts turned their talents to a larger stage. The longtime volunteers of the costume design and wardrobe department of Center Stage Theatre were nimbly crafting roughly 80 masks per day.

“I found out that several of them were already making masks for friends or family members who were connected to the health care industry,” said Dexter Brigham, the theater’s managing director. “They are currently fabricating several different types of two-ply cotton masks, including a basic surgical mask, ones with a pocket for a filter and masks with a nose wire for a better fit.”

The masks were donated to the Michigan Health Improvement Allliance, which established collection locations around the region. Although the masks were not of the high standards of the N95 surgical masks used in the medical profession, they still served a valuable purpose.

“As equipment from other departments is redirected to the coronavirus effort, these masks are essential for health care workers and patients who need protection, if not at the same level as those working with a highly contagious virus,” Brigham explained.

“We live in a remarkable community that is defined by how we take care of each other,” he added. “I’m so proud that I get to be associated with these wonderful, generous people – even if it’s just as a pickup-and-delivery guy.”