Talk of Our Towns

In this issue, we are expanding Talk of Our Towns to include the many practical and creative ways cities and towns across North Carolina are supporting their citizens, business partners and each other during this unprecedented time of crisis.

Their solutions are many, and their resolve is inspiring. The stories featured here are just a small sample of the impactful work happening around the state.

Washington Offers Financial Relief to Utility Customers

Attorney General Josh Stein today announced that Casey Cooper, CEO, Cherokee Indian Hospital, Cleveland County Sheriff Alan Norman, Franklin Mayor Bob Scott, and Highlands Mayor Patrick Taylor have received the Attorney General’s Dogwood Award. These awards are given annually to honor North Carolinians who are dedicated to keeping people safe, healthy, and happy in their communities. On April 13, the City of Washington’s Council voted to approve a one-time 30% reduction in the electric utility rate for all customers for the April billing cycle. The City of Washington’s administration recognized the economic effects facing all residential and business utility customers and proposed the reduction as a step towards relieving the burden. Considering the possible financial hardships and financial insecurity this crisis brings, the City of Washington has also indefinitely suspended all disconnections of utilities due to nonpayment.

Town of Knightdale put on a Bunny Hop Parade in dozens of neighborhoods. Photo credit: Town of Knightdale

Town of Knightdale Staff Brings Easter Bunny Surprise to Residents

In April, the Knightdale Parks and Recreation staff, Knightdale Police Department, and Knightdale Fire Department put on a mini Bunny Hop Parade for Knightdale residents in lieu of the canceled annual Easter Egg Hunt. The Easter Bunny gave more than a dozen Knightdale neighborhoods and their kids an exciting surprise outside while still practicing responsible social distancing.

Fayetteville Partners to Make PPE, Deliver Meals as Part of COVID-19 Response

For the City of Fayetteville, partnering within the local community is nothing new, but the current partnerships have taken on a new focus in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic. The Fayetteville Police Department is working with local teachers to build filter masks using 3D printers. Brian Thompson, a science teacher at Terry Sanford High School, had the idea of using the printers while students are learning at home to help first responders—the Fayetteville Police Department is providing the materials and teachers are manning the printers and assembling around 60 to 70 masks a day. In addition to working with local teachers, police officers are sewing masks to use while responding during the pandemic.

Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks and Recreation Department members deliver meals. Photo credit: City of Fayetteville

Additionally, Fayetteville Parks and Recreation is partnering with the Cumberland County Council on Older Adults to deliver “Meals on Wheels” meals to 70 homebound senior participants each day. The program typically relies on senior citizen volunteers to deliver the meals, but because they are considered a high-risk group as a result of COVID-19, the Council on Older Adults needed help delivering these meals. The city’s Parks and Recreation staff stepped up to fill the need, continuing to work despite recreation facilities being closed in the wake of social distancing measures.

#LoveHendo Campaign Supports Local Businesses in Hendersonville

Difficult circumstances often bring out the very best in collective efforts, and the #LoveHendo campaign is a shining example of what can happen when a community comes together to support small businesses impacted by the Coronavirus. Within a very short time after restrictions were placed on restaurants, the Friends of Downtown Hendersonville, Henderson County Chamber of Commerce, and a group of concerned citizen volunteers launched, a platform that allows the community to purchase gift cards, merchandise, and take advantage of the many businesses which are offering curbside pick-up and delivery services. The City of Hendersonville Public Works and Downtown Program collaborated to create dedicated ‘Curbside Pick-Up’ spaces to help facilitate the new operating guidelines.

“There is a lot of uncertainty for small business owners right now, especially in light of the recent restrictions for dining establishments,” said Lew Holloway, Downtown Economic Development Director for the City of Hendersonville, “We know this is scary for small businesses, and we hope this effort brings awareness to that fact and make things just a little bit better for our business community.”

Artist Gina Franco donated her time and materials to create this colorful mural on a retaining wall behind the Reidsville Police Department. During this difficult time, Gina wanted to spread some positivity through her artwork. Likewise, Rockingham County High School juniors Rafael and Raquel Cruz wanted to add a positive vibe to the City’s downtown, attracting young people and making the space feel alive. Solar lights were added to allow visitors to view the mural at night. Artist Ruby Blanco turned utility meters, below, into a work of art to brighten the spot and the day of passersby. Photo credit: City of Reidsville

Positivity on Display in Reidsville

The City of Reidsville, its business and artistic communities have all joined together during this unprecedented time of COVID-19 to be a positive force within the community. In a City that loves its high school football, the “team” concept has risen to a new level during this healthcare crisis—go Team Reidsville!

The Team Reidsville Business Community Huddle is a weekly Zoom meeting hosted by the Reidsville Chamber of Commerce. The Huddle idea was a joint effort between Chamber and City of Reidsville staff when the initial business shutdown was put into place and the first round of federal and state resources became available. Staff fielded dozens of calls from local businesses who were concerned, confused and curious about how to capture grant monies, sustain their employee base, deal with the crisis, etc. As staff gathered information from local, state and federal sources it was prudent to convene and disseminate information all at once to a wider group. Since then, the Huddle has evolved into a chance to escape from the crisis, breathe a little, laugh a little, learn a little, see familiar faces and have something to look forward to amidst these trying times. Huddle discussions are led by the Chamber President and City of Reidsville economic development staff.

In addition to the weekly Huddle, the City of Reidsville has stressed keeping the public informed via the City’s website and social media. Reidsville Mayor Jay Donecker has recorded weekly updates via the CodeRED system and mid-week appearances on the local television station Star News.

#WeAreRaleigh Campaign Highlights Stories of Support and Encouragement During Pandemic

The City of Raleigh pivoted quickly during Covid-19 in an effort to provide the same level of service to our residents, while also protecting employees. The City adjusted services, introduced aid initiatives, and worked to keep citizens informed during this challenging time. Much of the information has been delivered with a rallying cry: “We are strong. We are together. We are Raleigh.”

In addition to allocating $1 million to support small businesses affected by Covid-19, to be administered through two local partners—the Carolina Small Business Development Fund and Wake Technical Community College Targeted Microbusiness Grant—the City Council has provided guidance for allocation of federal CARES Act Funding that will focus on assisting homelessness/eviction prevention, including rent and utility assistance. The City Council voted unanimously to allocate $100,000 to two nonprofits, Passage Home and Triangle Family Services, to assist members of the community living in hotels.

City staff across many departments have adjusted to accommodate the new norms— creating special curbside pick-up zones to accommodate restaurant and shops; repurposing city staff, such as theater stage hands, to sew masks and help do health checks at City buildings for employees; offering remote inspections for single family and limited commercial inspections (non-life threating inspections; delivering meals to families in need, in partnership with Wake County Public Schools and Rocky Top Catering; and more.

To support families who are at home with children, the Raleigh Parks and Raleigh Arts have launched activities to boost morale and help parents, including Tiny Sculpture Scavenger Hunt and the “Play Anywhere Raleigh” that shares ideas and resources for activities people can do from home to have fun, stay active, and keep learning.

Oxford’s “Light It Blue” campaign. Photo credit: City of Oxford

City of Oxford Joins “Light It Blue” Campaign

The City of Oxford has joined the “Light It Blue” campaign in order to recognize, show support and bring awareness to healthcare professionals and first responders who continue to fight the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. “We are immensely grateful to frontline medical staff and the first responders who continue to serve our communities every day to keep others safe and healthy during this critical time.” The Oxford Fire Department has volunteered to display this “symbol of support” for our essential workers and front line heroes and can be seen each evening after sunset. “Thank you to all those delivering essential services during this unprecedented time.”

Davidson residents decorated gnomes as part of the town’s GnomeTownHero campaign. Photo credit: Town of Davidson

Town of Davidson Faces Gnome Invasion

To help support businesses in the Town of Davidson, Economic Development Manager Kim Fleming created a program called Gnome Town Hero, where residents could print out a drawing of gnome to add a photo, color and write a special note to post at businesses around town.

The town also added #GnomeTownHero to use on social media. Gnomes have a special place here in Davidson, thanks to Tom Clark and Cairn Studios. The town also shared a story about one of its Public Works employees being a Gnome Town Hero. Streets Crew Leader Jason Pace was at lunch in Cornelius and saw someone in need of a meal, which Jason provided on his own dime. On a separate occasion, Jason ran into the person again and voluntarily gave the person a sleeping bag, some toilet paper, a reusable bag in which to carry items, and a life straw. Not only does Jason serve his community every day by making sure Davidson is a safe, clean place to live, work, and play, but Jason’s generous heart and his gifts of time and goods proves he’s a true Gnome Town Hero outside of his role with the town as well!

Fuquay-Varina Raises $121,000 for Local Businesses

The Fuquay-Varina Angel Fund, a community fundraising project, raised $121,000 to assist the local business community combating the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic in just 14 short days! Grant funds distributed to 56 local, independently owned businesses will be used to pay rent, help with payroll and other critical operating expenses.

The project was started by Scott Quilty, a graduate of the Fuquay- Varina Chamber Leadership program. The Angel Fund launched March 18, thanks in part to a donation of $2,000 by Quilty and more donations from his friends. But as word of the campaign spread – through various forms of communication, including a strong presence on Facebook and daily emails – the fund began to grow.

A $25,000 donation from Bob Barker Company, the nation’s largest detention supplier whose headquarters are based in Fuquay- Varina, helped the cause, as did opening up online donations. The goal had been to raise $100,000, but donations kept coming in – to the tune of $121,000 by the time the campaign ended on April 1.

Rural Hall creatively put together “Egg My Yard” in just three days. Photo credit: Town of Rural Hall

Rural Hall Eggs Homes Across Town

On Good Friday, the Town of Rural Hall egged 110 yards! Five teams of staff, council members, volunteer firefighters, and their families were blessed to bring a little bit of joy to children, and their parents, in the midst of the pandemic. In less than three days, staff announced “Egg My Yard” inviting residents with children to register their yard; bought and stuffed 2,500 eggs; developed zones and routes; and egged homes bringing Easter cheer to 240 children.

Wake Forest Stays Strong

The Town of Wake Forest started a campaign centered around sending a positive message to area residents. It all began with the hashtag #StayStrongWF which was included on banners throughout the town. The Town organized a series of events to engage the community during the current Stay-at-Home order, including a spirit week, “chalk your walk” week, and window week where residents shared images on social media of themselves dressing up, coloring their sidewalks with chalk and decorating their windows.

Residents and local leaders #ThinkApex during the pandemic. Photo credit: Town of Apex

Think Apex Day Turns into a Monthlong Service Project

The Town of Apex typically holds Think Apex Day—a day of community service—on the last weekend in April. But when the Coronavirus stayat- home orders cancelled the in-person event, the town asked residents to share how they were able to “Think Apex Now.” Residents were encouraged to share their community service projects under the hashtag #ThinkApex, and the town then shared 8-10 stories in a “scrapbook” theme more widely to its Facebook and Instagram accounts during the entire month of April. Residents shared how they were making face masks to donate, supporting local businesses and healthcare workers, and spreading cheer in their neighborhoods. At the end of the month, the town posted a video, narrated by Mayor Pro-Tem Nicole Dozier, that compiled all the Think Apex Now stories and highlighted how residents have come together through their community service.