Hometown Heroes

People & Businesses that Stepped Up During COVID-19

As Columbians battled their way through the stay-at-home order, personal quarantines, working from home with their spouses and schooling their kids over the past several months, one thing stood out. Well, several people and businesses stood out. While everyone did their part staying home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, some members of our community stepped up and did far more than was expected or asked of them.

In April, we asked you to nominate individuals and businesses that you knew were making a difference in people’s lives. From donating time and supplies to create face masks for health care workers to making hand sanitizer from liquor to providing free meals for affected families, several businesses and people made us beyond proud to call Columbia our home. Here are just a few of your nominations.

Hy-Vee, Major Brands and Cupcake Vineyards

All three Columbia Hy-Vee locations, along with beverage distributor Major Brands and one of its winery partners, Cupcake Vineyards, collaborated to deliver 800 cupcakes to health care workers in the University of Missouri Health Care System. Major Brands-Columbia General Manager Kelly Collins wanted to support not only its retail customers (Hy-Vee) but, more important, also share some love with the tireless men and women on the front lines of the pandemic.

Columbia First Responders

Columbia’s first responders — police, firefighters and EMTs — have had to go into homes with infected people, which added a heightened level of stress to their already stressful, high-pressure jobs dealing with life and death and dangerous and dire situations. They did as they were asked without hesitation, remaining resolute in their desire to help serve, protect and save those in our community.

Welcome Home Team

Welcome Home Inc., a local nonprofit that helps homeless and at-risk veterans safely transition back into society, has continued to aid local veterans throughout the pandemic. Staff have been operating with a much smaller crew than usual and have continued risking their health in an effort to support veterans. “I continue to be amazed at their determination, steadfast dedication and care they give to our at-risk and homeless veterans,” their nominator, Michelle Vogt, says. “They give selflessly each and every day to make sure our veterans and their families get the support they deserve.”

Mask-Making Efforts

Appletree Quilting owners Eric Nelson and Amy Reilly spearheaded a community face mask-making effort during the stay-at-home order, and they continue to help provide masks for local health care workers. The mass mask-making initiative, part of their Give Back Sewing program, was made possible through their and other Appletree employees’ efforts, along with donated time and supplies from many Columbia residents. More than 4,300 masks were made and donated to local businesses and health care workers.

Appletree donated around 400 yards of fabric and 1,600 yards of elastic. Using these materials and additional donated elastic, experienced and amateur quilters, seamstresses and just Columbians in general helped sew masks for those in need.

It takes about a yard of fabric to make 12 masks, and each mask requires 14 inches of elastic. Nationwide, elastic is in short supply, but Appletree was able to rely on the generosity of Columbians, who donated their surplus to help make more masks.

To facilitate the effort, Appletree kept bins outside the store with supplies for mask-making that people could pick up and another bin to return completed masks in. Finished masks were donated to Kilgore’s, Lenoir Woods, Boone Hospital and many other places. The Columbia Weavers and Spinners’ Guild deserves a shout-out for its part in the effort.

“It has been a pleasure coordinating with the local hospitals, the city and county and other folks in the area that have needed to help protect themselves during this time of outbreak,” Give Back Sewing Coordinator Beth Greimann says. “We count it a privilege to be able to do anything for the community.”

Columbia resident Kristi Palmer stepped up at the beginning of the shutdown after hearing that there was a mask shortage. “I felt like I wanted to do my part, and I had the materials and skills and saw the need,” Palmer says. “I wanted to do a little something to try to make a difference.”

But because elastic is in short supply, Palmer had to come up with an alternative for her face masks. Her church, Fulton Church of Christ, has a Shoe Pantry program that had received several barrels of shoelaces to be used for mask ties. “Debbie Clubb, the Shoe Pantry coordinator, gave the shoelaces to me and other mask makers for mask ties,” Palmer says. “I’ve distributed 40 to 50 boxes of laces locally and mailed them across the country, as well.” Someone even drove up from St. Louis to collect the remaining laces to take back to mask-makers in her area.

After finding the solution to the elastic shortage, Palmer used personal supplies to create masks for friends, family and co-workers, and she participated in JoAnn Fabric and Craft Store’s national mask-making program, which enabled volunteers to make more than 1 million masks nationwide. Palmer estimates she made about 100 masks total.

Palmer’s nominator, Stacie McCutcheon, says, “She has since gone on to make masks for community members and has even posted a quick tutorial online teaching others how to make masks. She has proven that even when we are facing big problems, one person can make a difference.”

City of Columbia Solid Waste Department

During the COVID-19 crisis, several city agencies went above and beyond. One is the city’s Solid Waste Department. “During this uncertain time dealing with COVID-19, these workers have continued to take care of our solid waste needs without pause,” Candace Woodson, their nominator, says. “This is already a dangerous job, but with the virus in Boone County, it is especially dangerous. Trash and recycling material is coming from hospitals, nursing homes and many other high-risk areas. Without the brave men and women working in these areas, the COVID-19 virus could have easily gotten out of control. Because they continue to keep us safe, they are truly deserving of the Hometown Hero award.”

Rallying Restaurants

Columbia’s restaurants are in the business of serving food, but during these trying times many of them stepped up by also serving the greater good. Their efforts filled empty stomachs — but also filled our hearts.

David Johnson, owner of The Broadway Diner, has donated more than 2,800 meals to kids in need. “When I saw how the whole community was going to be impacted, my first inclination was to take care of the kids that would normally have breakfast or lunch through the school,” he says. “We will always take care of people who are hungry.” Johnson started giving away meals in mid-March, which we first announced via a tweet that read, “If you are a student who normally has breakfast and lunch at school, if you can get here safely, I will feed you.”

“David has a very big heart,” Vicki Leis, his nominator, says. “He loves his customers and is very much into community service.”

Patchwork Family Farms, part of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, is donating family farm raised pork to The Broadway Diner to help with Dave Johnson’s efforts to feed mid-MO children in need. Patchwork is also collaborating with Broadway Brewery to provide free hot meals to un- and underemployed mid-Missourians and has donated more than 400 packages of pork to restaurant workers in Columbia, including employees of Barred Owl Butcher & Table, Broadway Diner and Top Ten Wines, according to the Missourian’s reporting. MRCC and Patchwork Family Farms is currently distributing more relief packages with funding from Heart of Missouri United Way and Veterans United Foundation.

Como Smoke and Fire gave away more than 300 meals to kids in need in Columbia. “We give out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, chips, fruit cup, cookie and usually a piece of fresh fruit in each meal,” co-owner Matt Hawkins says. “At the beginning of the stay-at-home order, we were probably giving away six to 10 per day, and now it’s just on a call-in basis or if someone comes through the drive-thru and asks.”The Quarry is another eatery that helped feed not just Columbians’ hunger, but also our hope. Owner Mike Pratt says they’ve given away more than 1,000 meals so far and will continue to do so until kids are able to get meals at schools once more.

A collective of other restaurants, local chefs and other good folks from Pasta La Fata, Ozark Mountain Biscuit, Pizza Tree, Café Berlin, Beet Box, Fiddle and Stone Bread Co. and Scott’s Baked Goods held “Scrappy Meals” events to help feed those in need during this crisis. Their efforts distributing free single-serving meals and family meal kits in the parking lot of Café Berlin were awesome.

In addition, Beet Box provided free meals to health care workers, and places such as Nourish, Seoul Taco and Hot Box Cookies added options to ordering, allowing you to “treat” a health care worker with a gift card, cookies or other items.

Wade Bradley, owner of the local Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, provided free boxed lunches to the Columbia Police Department, University of Missouri Hospital ICU team, the drive-thru testing facility team nearby and Boone Hospital ICU.

Robin Blount & Mary Beck

As incident commanders during the COVID-19 crisis at Boone Hospital Center and University of Missouri Health Care respectively, both Dr. Robin Blount and Mary Beck had a huge hand in directing health care procedures that enabled Columbians to weather the worst virus outbreak of our time.

In a nomination from Kathleen Pitzer, Blount was praised for being instrumental in leading Boone’s preparation for and response to the pandemic. Blount has worked tirelessly, Pitzer said, both on the floors and in Boone’s Incident Command Center while also collaborating with other community partners, including MU Health Care and Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital.

Blount and Beck will continue to monitor how and when Boone Hospital and MU Health Care can safely and gradually resume elective cases and other operations, with an eye to safeguarding the community and managing public health risk.

Shelter Insurance

The Shelter Insurance Foundation donated $50,000 to a joint effort of Heart of Missouri United Way, the City of Columbia, Boone County and the Community Foundation of Central Missouri in an effort to provide crisis relief. The foundation also donated $1,000 on behalf of each agent to a charity of the employees’ choice helping to provide support and relief to those affected by COVID-19.

Veterans United Fund

The Veterans United Foundation donated $1 million to COVID-19 relief efforts nationwide, with $500,000 going to local efforts in Columbia. The foundation is funded solely by the employees of Veterans United Home Loans and its affiliated companies. The donations helped fund emergency relief and purchased supplies, such as masks. More than 25,000 meals were purchased from local restaurants affected by COVID-19 and the stay-at-home order in Columbia and were delivered to health care workers at local hospitals along with a homeless shelter. Additionally, each employee was given $100 as a direct deposit to support local businesses. The company also pledged $250,000 and partnered with Operation Gratitude for the #HereForOurHeroes campaign to provide 50,000+ care packages for National Guard and other military response units who have been activated in response to COVID-19. The company developed an online message writing platform for people to submit messages of support. The messages are printed on postcards included with the care packages.

Culver’s Collaboration

Area insurers Columbia Insurance Group, Missouri Employers Mutual and Shelter Insurance partnered with Culver’s of Columbia to offer 12,000 meal vouchers for health care workers and first responders in Boone County. Each insurance company funded a portion of the meals provided, and Culver’s covered the remaining cost. Recipients will have three months to redeem the voucher.

“We truly appreciate the dedication of those serving on the front lines of COVID-19, and we wanted to give back,” says Matt Moore, president and CEO of Shelter Insurance. “We know a meal is just one small gesture, but we hope it lets them know we care.”

Shaun and Olga Morris, owners and operators of Culver’s of Columbia, distributed the vouchers to workers at MU Health Care, Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital, Boone Hospital and to area first responders such as the Boone County Fire Protection District and the Columbia Fire Department.

“At Culver’s we say that ‘giving back is our greatest pleasure,’ and we mean it,” Shaun Morris says. “It is an honor for us to have a chance to say thank you.”

Boone County School Staff

We would like to give a huge shout out to all of the school staff, including teachers, administrative staff and bus drivers who helped keep our kids educated and fed. From dropping off books at student’s homes for them to read to driving around town with meals for students in need, our school staff have been absolutely incredible during this time. Thank you!

DogMaster Distillery

After the Columbia Police Department approached DogMaster Distillery and asked whether it could create hand sanitizer from their liquor, husband-and-wife founders Van and Lisa Driskel Hawxby lost no time in getting started. “We have given away close to 100 gallons of hand sanitizer,” Driskel Hawxby says. Much of that was given to the Columbia Police Department, Coil Construction, which built hand-cleaning stations for the local homeless population, and LegacyPoint Church, which distributed the sanitizer to low-income households. Although DogMaster has given away 100 gallons, they’ve made more than 2,200 gallons total, which has been distributed to local businesses and organizations and sold to local residents unable to find it at grocery stores.

One of their nominators, Sam Hawkins, says, “Not only are they making hand sanitizer for police/sheriff’s offices, city and county offices, but they are also including the general public. They have helped Mexico, Moberly, Slater, Hallsville, Centralia, Jeff City and even communities in the Bootheel of the great state of Missouri (M-I-Z). With this gesture, they have pulled many other businesses together.”

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