Although the effects of COVID-19 have been undeniably horrific and the new paradigm of protocols it's borne has disrupted so many of our daily lives, it's also brought out the best in a lot of us. Case in point: the many exemplary arts organizations, social advocacy groups, and independent businesses right here in the Hudson Valley who have risen to the occasion to help out in whatever ways they can.
We're Still Open HV is a free online directory of area businesses that have been open while the New York State on PAUSE order has been in effect. The brainchild of local web designers Jeff Severson and Sheila Gilday and web marketer Kati Haynes, it's a resource for restaurants, coffeeshops, retailers, and other businesses needing to let the public know that they're running and offer updates on protocol-related operations and related links. "We have a lot of friends in the business community and we really wanted to do something to connect consumers to businesses," says Severson. "At this point we have over 750 businesses listed, and we're still taking listing requests."
Craft distillers Gardiner Liquid Mercantile reopened to patrons in mid-June after keeping their spirits flowing via deliveries and curbside pickups of their beer, wine, cider, bottled cocktails and other beverages and food. Owner Gable Erenzo and his crew also heeded the call by manufacturing FDA-approved hand sanitizer (free in eight-ounce size to those unable to pay).
Since 2000, the Woodstock Film Festival has attracted thousands of movie buffs and film industry figures to Ulster County to attend screenings, seminars, and other events held as part of the internationally recognized gathering. And, according to cofounder Meira Blaustein, the festival is still planned for September 30 through October 4, although its parent organization is still formulating the means of presenting it. "We've been hosting a lot of online programming, such as biweekly conversations with filmmakers and a free weekly screening and Q&A with a related filmmaker or film industry person," says Blaustein. "This month, we're launching our Youth Film Lab, free of charge for the students, so that they can learn to make and create films using iPads that are given to them as part of this year’s online Lab."
Also in Woodstock, as well as in Rhinebeck, is the family-owned-and-operated Sunflower Natural Foods Market, opened in 1978. In addition to implementing curbside pickup and delivery options, both of its clean, well-stocked locations are up and running with adjusted hours (see website for updates) that include a special hour for senior shoppers, 9 to 10am, Mondays through Fridays.
Many local citizens have also utilized the Kingston Frontline Mental Health helpline, which was launched by the O+ organization and Samadhi recovery and outreach center. The 24-hour service provides free, confidential mental health assistance for essential workers and others. Another helpful hotline is that of the Kingston Emergency Food Collaborative, which went live in March and is likewise open around the clock. Established to aid in getting food and groceries to households in need across the Kingston School District, the service works in tandem with the Kingston YMCA, People's Place, Family of Woodstock, and Project Resilience.
Feeding the underserved during the tragedy has also been part of the recent actions of Hudson River Housing, a Dutchess County-based organization founded in the 1970s to strengthen communities by helping families and individuals secure safe, affordable housing and provide support through education and other services. "There's been a really high demand for food, so we've been focused on going out into the community and opening kitchens getting meals to people who need them," says Elizabeth Celaya, HRH's director of strategic initiatives. "With so many people not working now, rent relief is also a major issue, so we've been working to set up an emergency response rent relief fund. We've had more than 210 applications for rent assistance since opening the online application process on May 1."
The creative community has certainly been doing its part to adapt and assist in its own imaginative ways over the course of the ordeal. Art Omi, the 120-acre sculpture and architecture park in Columbia County, has opened its panoramic premises to individuals and small groups in need of some artistic distraction. "We recently installed a new, untitled piece by the sculptor Bianca Beck that's really colorful and joyful," says Omi's executive director, Ruth Adams. "We're also opening the gallery for some new exhibitions, with timed entries for viewers." One of the most quietly humbling examples of native response to the pandemic has been the formation of the NY Masked COVID-19 Avengers. With volunteers throughout the Hudson Valley, the Avengers have safely hand-made more than 18,000 face masks, which they've then distributed to healthcare workers and at-risk populations.