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You Can’t Keep This Community Down

Featured Photo from You Can’t Keep This Community Down

A lot has changed during the COVID-19 crisis, and the giving spirit of Oviedo-Winter Springs residents did, too – it got bigger and even more inspiring

A global pandemic. Social distancing. Stay-at-home orders. Despite it all, folks in the Oviedo-Winter Springs community have worked to uplift and inspire others with acts both big and small.

Residents, businesses, and nonprofit organizations have banded together to bring glimmers of light to healthcare workers and those in need during this dark time in our collective lives. Here are just a few of the ways that these caring people have been making a difference:

Mangia, Mangia!

Stefano’s Trattoria has been an institution in Winter Springs for years, and that has become even more apparent during these recent weeks.

“The community has been making sure we survive – people have been great,” says Alejandro Martinez, the iconic Italian restaurant’s owner. “It’s been an eye-opening experience. My team and I are very, very blessed.”

Not only have customers continued to order to-go tins of Stefano’s famous tortellini and other tasty delights, they have been quite generous with tips. One regular patron gave a $1,000 tip to be split between the nine employees who were on the clock that day.

Some customers have placed large orders to be delivered to businesses they patronize, while others have treated Alejandro’s employees to meals from other local restaurants – which helps keep those establishments afloat, too.

Alejandro strongly believes in giving back, so Stefano’s recently teamed with Santinos Pizza N Wings in Oviedo to provide Meals for Heroes. Customers of both restaurants donated money to feed about 130 employees of Oviedo Medical Center and the Winter Springs and Oviedo police departments. The two restaurants matched contributions from their customers – one of whom came up with the idea.

“People donated like crazy,” Alejandro says. “It was amazing.”

Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World

Rock & Brews in Oviedo has kept on rolling, making sure its regular customers – and hardworking medical professionals – are well-fed.

Tavo Mendez, the general manager, says patrons have been stopping by in droves for curbside pickup orders, and they’ve been showering the restaurant with praise on social media.

“The community has been so supportive – it’s been overwhelming,” says Tavo, noting that the steady business has allowed him to retain more employees during the economic downturn.

Rock & Brews has paid that goodwill forward by donating food to healthcare workers, including staffers at Oviedo Medical Center and Baldwin Park ER. The restaurant also partnered with the nonprofit foundation Helpful Hands, Inc. to donate food to employees of AdventHealth in Oviedo.

And, Rock & Brews has thrown in plenty of freebies with its food orders, courtesy of local businesses. The giveaways have included hard-to-come-by items, such as bottled water, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer, as well as fresh produce.

To lighten the mood, the restaurant even hosted a Park and Rock concert that gave customers the chance to enjoy a little live music from the comfort and safety of their cars while they waited for their pickup orders.

“It was awesome,” Tavo says. “They all had a great time.”

They’re Amazing

The local nonprofit organization Simply Amazing is continuing to live up to its name, giving the gift of creativity to children in need.

The private foundation was founded by Susan Smith Hietpas of Winter Springs to honor her late daughter, Emily Smith.

Simply Amazing provides art and craft supplies to children in at-risk youth programs, temporary housing, and foster care. Last year, Simply Amazing donated more than 1,400 of its creative boxes filled with supplies to deserving children.

Recently, Simply Amazing has delivered boxes to agencies such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, Orlando Children’s Church, and Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida. Those organizations, in turn, made sure the supplies wound up in the hands of the youngsters they serve.

The boxes are packed with fun, simple items such as markers, crayons, and clay and are provided at no charge to the children or agencies.

“It’s a soothing thing to be able to create art, and definitely so during an uncertain time like this when kids don’t understand and might want to express themselves,” Susan says. “I hope that this will bring them some peace and happiness.”

For details, visit SimplyAmazing.org.

Digital Doggie

Jordon, the facility dog at Kids House of Seminole, can’t comfort children with cuddles and kisses right now, like she usually does. Yet, the yellow lab is still supporting traumatized kids who need her unconditional love – she’s just doing it virtually.

Kids House is a children’s advocacy center that works with abused and neglected kids and their families. Jordon, who was trained by Canine Companions for Independence, often works with children during their therapy sessions. She can ease their stress and anxiety by lying next to them while they pet her and practice deep breathing exercises.

“Most kids say she makes them feel safe, calm, and happy,” says Denise Conus, mental health program director at Kids House and Jordon’s handler.

Kids House has switched to virtual appointments during the pandemic, with Denise and Jordon joining the sessions to help replicate the sensory experiences of a real-life visit. While watching Denise pet Jordon, the kids stroke a stuffed animal and do their breathing exercises.

“Just being able to see that Jordon is OK has been a comfort to them,” Denise says. “This is a way they can connect with her, even if it’s not as good as being up close and personal.”

For details, visit KidsHouse.org.

HOPE Springs Eternal

Despite temporarily closing its food pantry as a precautionary measure, HOPE Helps, Inc. still managed to meet the needs of its most vulnerable clients.

During its two-week closure in April, the nonprofit organization’s volunteers continued to deliver food to clients in HOPE’s Emergency Network System – primarily elderly, homebound residents. 

Founded in 2007, HOPE Helps serves the working poor, those who have never been in crisis before, and the homeless. During a regular week, the pantry assists between 200 and 250 households, says Joan Faulkner, HOPE’s president and CEO.

The community has rallied around the agency over the past few weeks, with many potential volunteers calling to ask how they can help. Others have made cash donations, and a local dentist donated 3,000 pairs of protective gloves for the agency’s staff and volunteers.

“It breaks my heart that we had to close for a couple of weeks,” Joan says, “but it also warms my heart that we’re surrounded by the best community that pulls together in a time of crisis – not just for our clients, but for us, too.”

Currently, the food pantry is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. For details about the organization’s programs, including its Resource Center and thrift store, visit HOPEHelps.org.

A Caring Caravan

Andrea Collins couldn’t sit idly by without trying to spread a little happiness. And, she wanted to demonstrate to her daughters, ages 15 and 7, the importance of giving to others and being grateful.

So, the Oviedo resident helped spearhead a strong show of community support and appreciation for the staff at Oviedo Medical Center (OMC).

“These healthcare professionals are risking their lives to help others,” Andrea says. “They’re heroes in our backyard.”

She invited like-minded folks from her neighborhood to join her in a drive-by thank-you to the OMC staff. And for increased impact, Andrea joined forces with a resident from another neighborhood who was planning a similar expression of gratitude.
A convoy of residents, Oviedo Fire Department employees, and Stenstrom Elementary School’s resource officer visited OMC on April 6, flashing their lights and honking their horns. Andrea estimated there were 30 to 40 vehicles in the caravan, which circled the parking lot three times. A group of medical center staffers stood outside, smiling and waving at their well-wishers.

Afterward, Andrea and her family donated pizza and breadsticks for the healthcare workers to enjoy.

“It was pretty cool how it came together,” she says. “Oviedo is a wonderful place. Alone, we’re nothing, but together, we’re everything.”

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