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10 uplifting stories of Tampa Bay’s creativity and kindness amid coronavirus

Here’s how Floridians are helping each other in the time of COVID-19.

Stories about the coronavirus pandemic are free to read as a public service at tampabay.com/coronavirus. If this coverage is important to you, consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Tampa Bay Times at tampabay.com/subscribe.

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Even with all of this *gestures* happening, people around Tampa Bay are still finding ways to uplift each other and make the community a little better.

Let’s celebrate some of those bright spots.

Social distancing isn’t stopping people from connecting with one another

The Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College had to cancel in-person lectures and classes due to the coronavirus. Now the classes and social hours are held online. [ Courtesy of Dr. Ilene Robeck ]

Coronavirus has taken away a lot, but friends are figuring out a way to get together. More than 300 senior citizens learned how to use Zoom to continue taking educational courses at Eckerd College. Now they use it for a virtual happy hour.

Related: Tampa Bay senior citizens turn to Zoom video chat for coronavirus company
Mabry Elementary School teacher Jennifer Buckley brought a birthday surprise to her student, kindergartener Lily Wolfe. [ Courtesy of Sherry and Adam Wolfe ]

Then there was Lily Wolfe, a kindergartener who was disappointed that she couldn’t celebrate her 6th birthday with her classmates. Her teacher, Jennifer Buckley, came by with a (socially distant) surprise.

Related: Tampa kindergarten teacher brought birthday surprise to student stuck at home

Buckley isn’t the only rock star teacher trying to beat the isolation blues. A caravan of Pasco teachers paraded through neighborhoods for a special show of support for their students.

Related: ‘I have to see them.’ Pasco teachers drive around town to cheer up students.
Pinellas County teacher Traci Andrews, pictured at left with her son, Hudson, recently started Teachers Going Digital Unite, a Facebook group aimed at helping teachers prepare for online learning, which starts next week in Florida in response to the coronavirus pandemic. At right is an image from the group's page, which had more than 13,000 members as of late Wednesday, March 25, 2020. [ Courtesy of Traci Andrews / Facebook ]

Meanwhile on Facebook, a community of Florida educators has blossomed. Teachers Going Digital Unite, a new Facebook group created by Pinellas County teacher Traci Andrews, is helping parents, teachers and principals ease into online learning. There are now over 15,000 members.

Related: Florida teachers lean on each other as online learning draws near

Tough times inspire creative solutions

Staci Simmons taught herself to sew to make these cloth face masks that she intends to donate to healthcare workers and others in need. [ Courtesy of Staci Simmons ]

Like makers in many cities around the world, folks in Tampa Bay are combatting medical supply shortages by hand-sewing masks.

The Mask Project Tampa Bay may be new, but the Facebook group already has 2,000 members on a mission to make masks for healthcare workers. Members are also collecting donations of materials and supplies, like wipes, gloves and sanitizer.

Related: Time on your hands? Homemade face masks help those vulnerable to coronavirus
Bartender Tony Finotti from Copper Shaker mixes up an Espresso Martini as he hosts a livestream cocktail course from the Urban Stillhouse - allowing people to sign on to watch as well as tip him via Venmo - Wednesday, March 25, 2020. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]

Many restaurants have been forced to lay off workers or close, but they aren’t giving up.

“Family meals and food delivery for out-of-work hospitality workers have been popular," writes food critic Helen Freund. "Some restaurant and bar owners have forgone their own salary while trying to keep some of their employees afloat. And virtual tip jars, often in the form of online GoFundMe campaigns, have emerged as the go-to crowdsourcing model to provide relief from coronavirus-related costs.”

Related: Tampa Bay restaurants and bars launch fundraising campaigns to help out-of-work staff
Meat Market's 12-ounce to-go cocktails in Tampa are crafted to serve two. [Courtesy of Meat Market] [ Courtesy of Meat Market ]

We could all use a drink right now. The bars may be closed for 30 days, but a virtual speakeasy is keeping some local bartenders working. Plus, over a dozen Tampa Bay area spots now offer take-home cocktails. Welcome to the age of bottled margaritas and Mason jar Mai Tais.

Related: Virtual speakeasy helps Tampa Bay bartenders pick up a shift at home
Related: Here’s where to get a cocktail to-go in Tampa Bay
The Epicurean Hotel.

Hotels around Tampa Bay have many vacant rooms as people stay home to practice social distancing. The upside? A lot of toilet paper is sitting around unused.

To get supplies out into the community and help employees from losing working hours, The Epicurean Hotel is launching a grocery store drive-through in Hyde Park.

Related: The Epicurean Hotel has 100 vacant rooms, so it’s offering gourmet grocery pickup
Meteorologist, Denis Phillips live streams from his home on Facebook Live during the COVID-19 pandemic [ Facebook/ Dennis Phillips ]

If Denis Phillips, beloved local meteorologist, can figure out this working from home thing, so can the rest of us. There’s something comforting about watching Tampa Bay’s favorite suspender-wearing weatherman sharing the news from his living room. It’s also a reminder of his famous Rule #7 that regularly goes viral during hurricane season: “Don’t freak out.”

Related: Denis Phillips is now reporting the weather from his living room

Finally, here are some uplifting words from Times sports reporter Joey Knight.

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ISOLATED ENTERTAINMENT: Lists of ideas to help entertain yourself and your kids at home

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