Clearwater residents pitch in during most challenging time

While images of empty Clearwater area beaches on the TV news stir mixed emotions for Tampa Bay Area residents -- relief to see enforcement of social distancing guidelines while missing the easy access we normally have to sand and sunshine combined -- city employees and volunteers are working hard to help everyone overcome the anxiety, isolation, and boredom experienced while in a coronavirus quarantine.
The extra efforts can be seen from residents and even the Mayor himself.
Just two days after being sworn in on April 2, Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard handed out free enchiladas and beverages from the Clearwater Beach Taco Bus to police officers on duty this past Sunday as seen in this video. His volunteer stint was part of an Amplify Clearwater program designed to feed first responders and also help local restaurants.

The new mayor, who also served from 2005 to 2012, says he’s encouraged by the efforts of so many in the city to jump into action for others.
“Some immediately think of the beaches and spring break, but there's another side -- there's a very strong community in Clearwater, where people are helping each other,” he says.
Hibbard praised residents who go shopping for seniors and the Salvation Army’s social services center on Druid and Highland, which is giving out 300 meals every Wednesday. Having served as the city’s mayor during the last economic recession, Hibbard says he’s no stranger to leading the city through challenging times.

“Crises bring out the best in most people, and the worst in some, unfortunately,” he adds. “But, I think we've seen a lot more of the best of people coming out.” 

Here are some examples of how residents of Clearwater are working together as neighbors, community leaders, municipal employees, small businesses, and volunteers in the challenging time of COVID-19.

Assistance amplified

AMPLIFY Clearwater’s #AttitudeofGratitude program is helping keep first responders healthy and keep their spirits up during the ongoing pandemic. 

The organization, which grew out of the 2019 merger of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce, has invited restaurants to provide meals for the people on the front lines in Clearwater and surrounding areas, with the program purchasing meals from restaurants through community contributions. The city and the business chamber have heard from many in the community who want to help in spite of social distancing not allowing for traditional volunteer opportunities. 

AMPLIFY Clearwater usually hosts an Attitudes of Gratitude event each year leading into hurricane season. This event is a way to say thank you to those that put their lives on the line to protect ours,” says Amanda Payne, President/CEO. “We are changing it up a bit this year to embrace a new way of saying thanks. Our local restaurants are also an important part of our community, often donating time, efforts, and resources to a variety of causes that we are passionate about. This is an excellent way to help them while also saying thank you by providing a meal to those risking their health to help others.”

Among the Clearwater restaurants participating is Russo's NY Pizzeria, which delivers pizza and salads that are then served to officers on the street. According to the Clearwater Police Department, the chamber is dedicated to taking care of those on the front lines while also supporting local businesses during this time. “We appreciate the support today, tomorrow and throughout the year!” says the CPD’s Facebook page.

Helping independent/small biz owners
To better understand the impact of COVID-19 on local businesses, the City of Clearwater Economic Development, Community Redevelopment Agency, Clearwater Business SPARK, and AMPLIFY Clearwater have invited Clearwater business owners to participate in the city’s COVID-19 Business Impact Survey.

The survey allows Clearwater businesses to share their issues, problems, and concerns. According to city officials, the survey results will better help the city and AMPLIFY Clearwater to understand the needs of the Clearwater business community. The city and AMPLIFY Clearwater also intend to devise an economic recovery strategy post-coronavirus to best help local businesses and effectively deploy resources.

The U.S. Small Business Administration is offering low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to Florida small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of COVID-19. Florida's Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program is now available to offer short-term, interest-free loans to businesses impacted by the disease. The program is being administered in conjunction with the Florida SBDC. Find more information here.

Get the latest information on the City of Clearwater's website page called COVID-19 information and updates.

Support independent and family-owned cafes, eateries

Southie owners Bella Rincon and Steven Gonzalez are keeping their entrepreneurial dream alive and not letting a dangerous virus interrupt their momentum.

Continuing to work hard at their cafe named in homage to their South America birthplaces (Rincon is from Venezuela and Gonzalez is from Argentina), they’re keeping Southie Coffee open, serving customers coffee, frappes, vegan, and gluten-free fare and hearty sandwiches to go. Their new hours are Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and they have their own dedicated online ordering platform.

A few miles north, Mexican favorite Hacienda Correlejo is serving takeout and offering delivery of its well-reviewed comida. The eatery is open Wednesday-Sunday noon to 9 p.m. Cleveland Street neighbor Charlie’s Sushi isn’t denying our cravings for raw aquatic delights, and Chef Mensa, proprietor of downtown Italian fine dining restaurant Soul Sicilian Fusion is rolling up his sleeves and making authentic Italian-style pizzas-to-go downtown. Brandishing a whopping five stars on Yelp, Amore Pizzeria on Drew Street is still pumping out the pies plus some wings and salad.
“Amore Pizzeria is closely monitoring daily updates and recommendations from the CDC and the city of Clearwater Public Health,” their Yelp page says. “We are reinforcing and intensifying all safety and cleaning as a top priority as always. We are sanitizing door handles, counters, seats, tables, and restrooms frequently during service. Our staff is frequently hand washing fronts, backs, wrists, between fingers with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.”

Addresses of Clearwater eateries open for takeout include:Emotional Support Call Line

If you are feeling worried, stressed, or alone, or if you are having a hard time coping or adapting during this pandemic, Directions for Living is available to listen. Call their Emotional Support Call Line to talk to someone today. When you call, leave your name and number, and someone will return your call within two operating hours. This call line is for emotional support only, not resources. Call 727-524-4464, ext 1001, daily 8 a.m.- 8 p.m.

Visit Florida webinar: Wednesday, April 8, at 10 a.m.
Learn about COVID-19's Impact on Florida Vacation Rentals and DMO's (destination marketing organization for non-tourism folks) and the potential for KeyData Dashboard to track the most important Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in real-time to measure the impact of the virus on the vacation rental industry throughout Florida.

The webinar will include data broken down by different regions of Florida, will look at how far into the future cancellations are going, and what kinds of properties are being impacted the most. Link to register.

Clearwater police, fire rescue stay in touch

Clearwater’s fire department and police department have been working overtime to provide public service announcements and salute local businesses on their respective Facebook pages.
Posted on Facebook by Clearwater Fire & Rescue: “Even if your cleansing wipes are running low, please do not mix cleaning products when disinfecting your home. Certain mixtures can create toxic fumes and skin irritation. Bleach and vinegar cause coughing, breathing problems, burning and watery eyes. Bleach and ammonia cause shortness of breath and chest pain. Bleach and rubbing alcohol cause drowsiness. Hydrogen peroxide and vinegar can cause severe irritation to the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. List of CDC-recommended cleaning products.
The Clearwater Police Department praised Pat Foster, “who loves to sew and decided to make masks for other people in her neighborhood. She is just another shining example of people who are going above and beyond to help others during this challenging time.” The department's social media team is asking for information to share on Facebook about local heroes who are “doing good for others.”

Find the answers to your questions

If you live in Clearwater and have questions about coronavirus or how to get services, the city offers a one-stop web page with answers to frequently asked questions and a host of resources to meet residents’ and businesses’ needs.

A Clearwater quarantine resource in the making

The Clearwater Patch neighborhood news publication has begun to compile a directory page that will allow business owners to let readers know if they’re open or closed. Business owners can continually update their information here. The directory will appear on Clearwater Patch, in its local email newsletters, and on its local Facebook pages to ensure that as many community members as possible know the status of businesses, the publication said, adding “we'll continue to do this until this crisis has passed and our local businesses are back to normal operations.”

Good neighbors to the rescue

Caring Clearwater residents are using the community networking website Nextdoor to provide groceries, food and services to people who are self-quarantining and having difficulties in getting what they need. 

Realtor Rameez Chaudhri posted, “If anyone is laid off or furloughed and starts running out of food, please don’t go to sleep with an empty stomach. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to send me a private message, we will be more than happy to share whatever food we have.” 

Click here for Nextdoor’s neighborhood map of helpers or add your information if you wish to help.
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Read more articles by Julie Garisto.

A graduate of Largo High, USF, and the University of Tampa's Creative Writing MFA program, Julie Garisto grew up in Clearwater and now has a home in the Ocala National Forest. Between writing assignments, she's teaching English courses at Saint Leo University and other colleges. Julie has written arts features in Creative Pinellas' online magazine ArtsCoast Journal, Creative Loafing, Florida travel pieces  (Visit Tampa Bay and Visit Jacksonville), the Cade Museum, and features and reviews in the Tampa Bay Times. Her previous journalistic roles include arts and entertainment editor for Creative Loafing, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and copy editor for the Weekly Planet. Lately, she's been obsessed with exploring Florida's State Parks, small towns, and natural springs.