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Sanford Samaritans

Featured Photo from Sanford Samaritans

Local businesses are all in this together, which is why one Sanford company decided to help many others weather the COVID-19 crisis

So many small businesses in downtown Sanford are struggling to survive amid the pandemic and the resulting economic collapse. The frequent street festivals and parties that brought throngs of people downtown have ground to a halt as social distancing rules the day.

So Yvette Rowe, who owns Maya Books & Music, was delighted recently when a group of women she did not know stopped by with a donation to help the used-book store stay afloat.

“I was very surprised to see a very generous check,” Yvette says.

Her business was one of five, including the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens, to benefit from the generosity of Sanford resident and business leader Jeff Small and his staff at Advanced Composite Structures. All five received an undisclosed amount of money, and there is more to come for others.

This all came about when Jeff was scrolling through social media at the height of the COVID-19 crisis and spotted a post urging people to patronize Sanford businesses or risk losing them forever.

“I had a hard time sleeping that night, and it was the first thing on my mind when I woke up the next morning,” Jeff says.
Jeff is president of the company, which repairs helicopter rotor blades and is located on the grounds of the Orlando Sanford International Airport. After seeing that post, he conferred with his colleagues, and they came up with a plan to give local businesses a boost.

“I wanted to make sure the amount was enough to make a difference and not just a token,” he says.

While the virus has devastated the entire economy, downtown Sanford has been hit especially hard with it’s antique and knick-knack shops, art galleries, and small eateries that were already operating on razor-thin profit margins. Before the pandemic, Sanford was also part of a growing craft-beer scene, but this summer the State of Florida ordered all bars shuttered.

“I don’t go there too often,” Jeff says of the downtown area. “But I loved what Sanford turned out to be.”

A native of Lebanon, Indiana, Jeff moved to Sanford at the age of 12 and still lives there with his wife, Sarah. They have five children, 10 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

Despite the sour economy, Jeff’s operation caters to a niche market and continues to do well.

“We are a unique business,” he says. “We support helicopter operations from all over the world, including civilian, U.S., and foreign militaries.”

Jeff and his associates talked to people deeply connected to the city to decide who would get the first round of payments. Then a group of women from Jeff’s company went out to deliver the checks in person.

Jeff had a very personal motive for including the Central Florida Zoo as a beneficiary. As a youngster, he loved visiting the zoo when it was still in downtown Sanford.

“I would like to see the zoo continue to operate for the young kids today to build memories as I did,” he says.

Jeff did not impose any conditions on how the first five beneficiaries could spend their gifts. He presumes, he says, that they know how to make the best use of it.

He describes the reactions to his endeavor as incredible.

“We have received heartfelt thank-you cards, emails, and even a phone call from a sister-in-law of one of the recipients from San Diego,” Jeff says.

As rough as conditions are, Jeff has no doubts the city will recover.

“There are so many good, hardworking people in Sanford that will support each other to get through these hard times,” he says.

At Maya Books & Music, Yvette shares Jeff’s confidence.

After 17 years in business, Maya was forced to close for about six weeks before the state eased stay-at-home orders. Maya has since reopened, and Yvette focuses on keeping the bills paid and the doors open.

“It’s been extremely tough,” she says. “But I think I’m going to make it.”

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