In times of hardship and crisis, people tend to put aside their differences and focus on helping one another, and Las Crucens have, without a doubt, come together to support those who are struggling due to the massive impact of COVID-19. There has been an outpouring of good deeds, donations, and compassion during this time, the epitome of neighbors helping neighbors.
One of the major lifestyle changes to come from the new COVID-19 restrictions is not being able to sit down at your favorite restaurant and enjoy a delicious meal. Dining rooms have been closed, but many restaurant kitchens are open for business. The restrictions allow restaurants to continue to operate their drive-thru, take out, and delivery services, but we lacked a central information hub to know which services were being offered where. Kacie Boylan-Henke, a local real estate agent, decided to solve that problem. She took some inspiration from a fellow agent and created the Las Cruces Curbside Food and Restaurants Facebook page. “I saw all these individual posts from businesses about what they were doing, and it was driving me crazy because they were all random and sporadic and when I saw that idea, I thought it was perfect,” said Kacie. “We have so many local mom-and-pop shops here. I feel like the bread and butter of our community is more local restaurants.
I thought that it would be extremely helpful for them, and for us as locals, to know who is taying open and who isn’t staying open.” At first, Kacie expected only a few hundred people to join the page, but after nine days the
number of page members had reached 7,700 and was over 11,000 by mid-April. Many restaurants are utilizing the page to inform customers of their changed ways of operating, delivery specials, business hours, and even new food options to accommodate large families. Kacie’s main reason for creating the page was simply to help. Transitioning to this new socially distanced lifestyle has not been easy for anyone, especially businesses and restaurants. “This is completely new for everybody and we don’t know exactly how to do it yet,” said Kacie. “As consumers, we may not necessarily
know how to order the food or do take out. Most of the restaurants are not sure either, but they are figuring it out. They are trying to make it easier for the consumer. Everyone is learning together. Food is what brings us together. Staying calm and understanding that we are all human and we are all learning how to get through this pandemic is important to keep in mind. Giving everyone a little grace and kindness will get us all through this.” Kacie plans on continuing the Facebook page even after COVID-19 subsides, because she believes that it is allowing owners to explore other ways of operating their businesses and wants it to continue to be a resource for consumers. Two of the many restaurants utilizing Kacie’s page and helping the Las Cruces community are The Game Bar and Grill and The Game II: Extra Innings.
Owner of The Game locations as well as a catering company, Marci Dickerson has directed her efforts toward ensuring that Las Cruces children and families are being fed and that her employees retain their sense of security. For Marci, her employees come first. She has managed to keep temporary layoffs to a bare minimum and has ensured that those laid-off or still working “will not go hungry or miss a rent payment.” “When the times were good, our employees are the face of our company and they are the ones that go out and make our company money and we have always treated them like family,” said Marci. “Now, when the times are hard, that is when your true character as an owner comes out and that is when it matters how you take care of people.”
Marci has gone the extra mile in doing just that. When supermarkets were seeing a large influx of people, she personally ordered $15,000 worth of groceries and gave them to her employees. She has made sure to inform them of the programs and grants that are available to them and paid $300 of their April rent so that they didn’t have to worry about losing their homes. She kept her catering employees working for three weeks distributing meals to Las Cruces Public Schools students.
No wonder they call her “Mama.” Young Gun’s Produce Inc. owner Chris Franzoy was inspired by Marci and decided to use his skills as a farmer to give back to the community through Marci’s charity, Revolution 120. “We heard about all of the good work Marci was doing and it made us feel like we needed to do something. It didn’t feel right sitting back and not doing anything at all,” said Chris. Chris and his wife donated 6,400 pounds of dry pinto beans and the same amount green chile, staples in Southwestern cuisine, to Revolution 120, which then distributed it in just 20 minutes to members of the Las Cruces community at The Game II. FARMesilla added a donation of 250 pounds of rice to the effort. “What we did is just a small token compared to what God gave us and we are hoping that those who have the means to give, do so by either ordering take out or donating what they have,” Chris said. It was important for Chris to help out in some way because restaurants and consumers have always supported them, and “when the restaurants struggle, we struggle right there with them,” he said, so he is remaining positive and continuing to do what he can for the community. The Game II was also the distribution point for 6,500 pounds of potatoes donated by the Binns Family Foundation to Revolution 120. Revolution 120 also donated and delivered milk to La Casa for their clients who were having trouble finding it in stores, donated 450 masks to a local hospital, and partnered with Adams Radio Group to donate more than 2,000 masks for La Clinica de Familia’s 17 clinics serving the community.
In addition to taking care of her employees, Marci has also implemented a $2 meal program that provides struggling families, and anyone who needs food, with affordable meals. It started with children’s meals and expanded for anyone in need. “When they decided that they were going to close the schools, I realized that this is going to be a huge hardship on a lot of parents,” Marci said. Anyone can call and order meals. “We want anyone and everyone who is hungry in this community to be fed,” Marci stressed. “We’re taking the concept of paying it forward with community donations to support those in need.” To her surprise, after DJ Tommy Black notified her that he wanted to buy 50 meals to be given out, others followed suit, including several local motorcycle groups. Marci ended up with 7,000 sponsored meals. “So, to be honest with you, I haven’t actually had to sell a $2 meal yet,” she said. Donations are still being accepted to help support this program. In addition, an anonymous donor gave Revolution 120 a very large sum of money, Marci said, for grants for unemployed servers and bartenders to pay their utility bills.
Las Cruces Orange Crate delivery service, owned by Heather Chandler, volunteered time and resources for two days during the week of March 23.
Heather decided to contact Marci and arranged to deliver the sponsored meals to children across Las Cruces. “We wouldn’t have been able to do it without them,” said Marci. Heather reached out to families on Facebook and compiled a list of people in need. One of her head drivers, Naomi, arranged routes for the other drivers and made sure they had enough meals for each stop. Her employees took two days off to give back to the community. “Instead of working and being paid, they picked up approximately 300 meals and delivered them free of charge,” said Heather. They received a lot of positive feedback, from kids running to answer the door to photos from parents of their children enjoying their spaghetti dinners. Naomi was told by one of the parents that this was the first time her kids had eaten in 18 hours. Heather said she plans to arrange more free delivery days with Marci and The Game and will continue to offer free delivery vouchers throughout the year.
Las Cruces artists and creators are also finding ways to help the community during this tough time. Cruces Creatives, a makerspace, decided to temporarily close its doors when the Las Cruces Public Schools announced their closure, but it did not stop creating by any means. Lea Wise-Surguy, executive director of Cruces Creatives, and Sandy Smith, COVID19 response project leader, decided it was their obligation as a makerspace to use their services to provide safety equipment for healthcare professionals and education tools for students. They are using their resources to make 3D-printed masks with filter cartridges, fabric face masks, face shields, and student activity kits to keep kids learning while away from school. “You have to do something,” Lea said. “We are uniquely set up to handle these types of projects and we have a community of makers and tools, so it makes so much sense, when you have all this available, to respond.” These efforts fit perfectly into their core values of safety, creativity, and community. Lea and Sandy had upwards of 85 volunteers ready to work even before they had officially launched the project and expected many more people as the project developed.
They are taking every safety precaution possible to ensure that what they are giving out to the community is safe, with all items sterilized and given a quarantine period. Cruces Creatives decided to create the student activity kits because they did not want kids and their education to be forgotten. “We want them to stay active and engaged at home,” said Sandy. They provided the activity kits to Families & Youth Inc., and the face masks and shields were distributed to locations such as MountainView Regional Medical Center, Mesilla Valley Hospice, cancer care centers, and even local midwives. Cruces Creatives’ efforts inspired a local artist to use her talent to help the community. Jeri Desrochers, a well-known painter, was so motivated by the work done by Cruces Creatives she decided to auction one of her paintings and donate the proceeds to help them continue their work. “I really wanted to pick a place that was working with the hospitals and what they need, and every time I suggested something like that, [Cruces Creatives] were one step ahead of me. What they are doing is amazing,” Jeri said. She also wanted to increase awareness of Cruces Creatives’ contributions and let people know they can make direct donations to support them (crucescreatives.org/donatemoney/). “I just wanted to help in any way that I could,” said Jeri. Jeri’s painting raised $2,500 for Cruces Creatives’ COVID-19 Response Program, with the winning bid by Nelson F. Clayshulte Farms Inc. She said she hopes others will look at their own special skills and use them to help the community. These are just a few of our neighbors helping neighbors. Many others have stepped up to help during this crisis, from making masks to sharing resources. To boost our spirits, musicians have hosted concerts online and museums provided virtual tours on Facebook. Tell us about others on our Facebook page!