Social distancing. Face masks. Hand sanitizers. The COVID-19 outbreak throughout the U.S. and the world has changed all of our lives drastically in a very short amount of time. As Indiana entered the second part of a five-stage plan to reopen businesses and bring life back to normal beginning May 4, Evansville began to reemerge as well after weeks of quarantine.
For Indiana, Stage 1 began in March, when Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced a stay-at-home order, closing businesses and workplaces except those deemed providing the necessities of life. Restaurants closed dining rooms and became carry-out or delivery only. Retailers shut their doors as well, fulfilling call-in and online orders through curbside pick-up and delivery. Social gatherings of more than 10 people were restricted. Life began to change.
As the days stretched into April, our community stepped up to help our local businesses and residents in full force.
The United Way of Southwestern Indiana, the Community Foundation Alliance, the Welborn Foundation, Koch Foundation, Old National Bank, Vectren, and many others partnered with the city of Evansville to form the COVID-19 Crisis Response Fund of the Greater Evansville Region on March 27. The fund’s purpose is to provide assistance and relief to area organizations affected by the COVID-19 virus.
In April, $200,000 of the funds were awarded to seven nonprofit organizations, and in May, another round of more than $450,000 was awarded to 25 more. The fund has raised more than $4.7 million (with a goal of $6 million) to continue assisting area nonprofits.
Evansville Day School held an EDS STRONG online auction and fundraiser from April 18 to April 25 in place of its annual gala. In addition to fundraising for its academic programming, EDS also added a Healthcare Heroes relief drive to the event. Members of the high school’s Student Leadership Council asked the public to donate funds to support healthcare workers at Deaconess, Ascension St. Vincent Evansville, and Ascension St. Vincent Mercy hospitals. These donations were accompanied by handwritten notes from EDS teachers and students, offering words of encouragement to those on the frontline.
“The Student Leadership Council members decided the most important thing we could do right now is to help our local hospitals and medical professionals,” said EDS freshman and SLC Academic Committee member Shriya Naraya.
In late March, local McDonald’s employees delivered 800 meals to healthcare workers at Ascension St. Vincent. Local franchise owners Rick and Susan Mann, Chip and Katie Kenworthy, Paul Snider, and Michael Burrell also provided hundreds of gift cards to frontline workers at Deaconess Health System. In all, the area locations donated more than 3,200 meals to healthcare workers.
The Downtown Evansville-Economic Improvement District jumped in as well, creating a virtual tip jar to provide aid to those service industry employees laid off, furloughed, or otherwise affected by closures. Those wishing to help can access the tip jar online and leave a tip in a server’s, bartender’s, or hair stylist’s Venmo, Paypal, or Cash App account.
It became about the little things to Evansville residents — acts of kindness and solidarity.
The Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra, which had postponed upcoming performances in late March, joined the Songs of Comfort project, sharing music with the public through social media. The Eykamp String Quartet and members of the orchestra perform each Wednesday on the EPO Facebook page. Maestro Alfred Savia, whose final performance with the EPO was postponed until Aug. 15, also hosted a symphony series called “Bedtime with Beethoven.”
The Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana opened its annual members-only exhibit to all local artists to submit work and produced a virtual gallery for residents to enjoy from the safety of home.
The Need a Neighbor Initiative was created by Community One and area churches. This project allowed those residents in need of a meal, groceries, essential supplies, or just a friendly voice on the other end of a phone call to connect with neighbors who could help.
Businesses also shifted focus. Anchor Industries picked up production on emergency relief tents for hospitals and medical professionals. Tents were shipped throughout the country, particularly in New York City, Washington D.C., and Baltimore.
In April, Berry Global made a switch to increase production of face mask materials at their North American plants. The company also partnered with The Women’s Hospital at Deaconess to produce face shields for newborn infants, which helped medical staff transport them safely.
When it came to facemasks, Evansville residents stepped up. As supplies of masks dwindled in stores and online, local seamstresses came to the rescue. Mary Jo Hinton of Evansville donated more than 1,500 masks to hospitals, nursing homes, fire departments, and residents in Evansville and Henderson, Kentucky.
Terry Mominee of Mominee Studios developed her own mask pattern using Velcro-type fastening, a bendable wire to adjust the mask, and a pouch inside that could carry soft respirator filters or a standard N95 mask. Mominee offered the pattern for free to others and submitted copies to the Stained Glass Association of America to share with stained glass workers from around the country and world.
“We are not doing these for profit,” says Mominee. “We are very excited about this design and its potential to be a major improvement in fabric mask design.”
When the Back on Track Indiana plan was released in early May, members of the Reopen Evansville Task Force had already been hard at work. Areas of business assistance, workplace safety and testing, quality of life, government operations, food security, and communications were all addressed by task force groups to provide resources.
A collaboration between Deaconess Health System and the Indiana University School of Medicine-Evansville announced the first local study on the prevalence of COVID-19 in the area in an effort to help leaders and employers understand how to safely reopen. Up to 1,000 employees from several different industries were selected and results were expected by the end of May.
“This is the first of hopefully many phases of testing,” says Dr. Steven Becker, associate dean and director of the Indiana University School of Medicine-Evansville. “What we learn from this testing will be used to design and implement future rounds of testing.”
Just because opening efforts had started did not mean help was no longer needed by local businesses.
On May 18, an announcement came from local government leaders concerning outdoor seating for restaurants. The Evansville Restaurant Relief Program is designed to enable restaurant operators to expand their outdoor dining areas temporarily onto existing property and public rights-of-way, according to Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke’s office.
For Evansville residents, the efforts of us all — from business owners and restaurant employees to schoolteachers and government leaders — made it seem as if life could get back to normal easily when our state began to gradually reopen.
During Winnecke’s state of the city address on May 6, he discussed how the city fared in the wake of the pandemic.
“Because of our response and so much more, I’m really proud to report that the state of our city is resilient,” Winnecke said. “I have a front row seat to witness a city full of grace, charity, kindness, compassion, and a profound sense of humanity.”
“If you can think of a good deed, it’s been performed right here in Evansville,” he added. “It’s the Evansville way.”
Though Evansville, the state, and the world are not back to normal as the effects of the pandemic virus continue to ripple across the community, ongoing efforts can ensure we will, one day, be able to live life as we did. Until that time, Evansville continues to stay strong, together.