Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic paralyzed the economy, many businesses and nonprofits have taken it upon themselves to either redirect their professional energies to help those in need or make their products and services available to individuals facing difficult times.
“It’s been amazing,” said Beverly Balaz, president of the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce. “People have popped up saying, ‘Let’s be strong. Let’s go forward. Let’s help.”
“If ever there’s been a time for altruism and self-sacrifice, it’s now,” added Heather Cavanagh, president and CEO of the Stamford Chamber of Commerce.
A TOAST TO HOSPITALITY STAFF
Last fall, Stelios Stavrianos won a Milli Award from Westfair Communications for his work as founder and CEO of The Core Beverage Group, the Stamford-based creator of Cylinder Vodka. This spring, Stavrianos is working to aid those who helped turn his product into a success.
“Beginning on March 30 and going through May 1, I am donating 100% of our revenue to bartenders and hospitality staff in need,” he said. “The funds will be dispersed through two nonprofits: the U.S. Bartenders Guild and Another Round Another Rally.”
Stavrianos’ generosity comes in response to the closing of eateries except for takeout and delivery, leaving servers and bartenders out of work. This situation is made worse because those workers rely heavily on tips to make a living.
“The world now is crippled and every individual is feeling hurt,” he continued.
Stavrianos wanted to give back to those whose work helped grow his business, noting that in the post-pandemic era, “a lot of consumers will be looking at companies in a different way and ask, ‘What did you do when everything fell apart?’ ” As for the loss of a month’s revenue to benefit others, Stavrianos was not concerned.
“I think we’ll be fine,” he said.
THANK YOU, MASK MAKERS!
Erin Byrne’s Brookfield-based fabric and quilt business Cotton Candy Fabrics had completed a 1,500-square-foot expansion of its retail center at 457 Federal Road and was aiming at a March 21 event celebrating the addition.
“Leave it to me to pick the worst time in the history of quilt shop expansions to do an expansion,” she said. “Not great timing, and sales are down probably 75% because we don’t have the foot traffic.”
But while Byrne’s business is taking a hit during the ongoing crisis, she found a new cause when the mother of a local nurse complained about the shortage of masks in area hospitals.
“We posted on Facebook and mobilized our network of volunteers,” Byrne said. “And the masks just started coming in.”
Most masks are created by longtime quilters on sewing machines that create 100 per day, but Byrne acknowledged one local volunteer who sews them by hand and averages two per day. The masks are replacements used by nurses temporarily after their medical-grade equipment needs replacing.
“The mask has a layer of flannel on the inside for comfort and a little bit of filtration, a layer of cotton on the outside and two elastics to put over each ear to hold the mask in place,” she continued. “We pleat them so that it stays tight around the face. We’re also making some that have a slit in the back so that they can put in a filter. Some are even using vacuum cleaner bags as a filter.”
Byrne has posted a how-to video on her business’ Facebook page to instruct volunteers eager to lend a hand. More than 3,000 masks have been created for area hospitals, in-home nursing associations and the New Milford Fire Department.
CATCHING UP ON READING
Westport’s G.S. “George” Eli has been active as the founder of the Romani Media Initiative, an activist organization focused on the hardships facing the Roma population – more commonly known as Gypsies – and as the owner of the film production company 4th Nail Productions LLC. With the closure of schools, he saw an opportunity to educate local youth on the often-misunderstood Roma culture by providing free digital copies of his young adult novel, “The Last of the Magi: The Devouring” prior to its official release.
“Westport is a hot spot for the coronavirus and we need to be especially diligent here,” he warned. “Having a business located in downtown Westport, I was troubled to see the amount of young people disregarding the severity of this global pandemic and the importance of social distancing. I believe we are all trying to do the right thing, offering aid where we can. I decided to offer the book for free to encourage doing our part to stay indoors until it is safe otherwise.”
KEEPING THE MUSIC ALIVE
The performing arts have suffered during this crisis, with the closure of venues that brought entertainment to the community. But two music entities have decided to press ahead to bring new music to audiences deprived of their beloved venues.
The Stamford Symphony has created the Stamford Symphony Channel on its website that provides recorded performances, plus solo serenades, informal practice videos and interviews featuring symphony members, and a children’s section to help the next generation of musical talent learn their craft.
“Once it became clear that our spring concerts could not go ahead, we knew it was our duty as an artistic organization to help fill a void,” said Russell Jones, president and CEO. “Music provides comforts in uncertain times and our musicians are eager to step in and support the community.”
Nathan Sage’s Sage Sound Studios in Shelton is offering independent singer/songwriters free online mixing of one song and a pay-what-you-can-afford plan for creating the master recording at the studio.
“People are not going to shows for the foreseeable future,” Sage lamented. “But there are still artists that want to put out their music. If they can get their music out, they will be able to stream it, sell it and license it, which will make them money. That can keep things going until things come back to normal.”
THE ROAD AHEAD
No one knows when the COVID-19 crisis will be permanently tucked into the history books, but future generations will certainly look back on this time and recognize how it brought out the best in people in general and business professionals in particular.
“Businesspeople are basically good,” said Mike Roer, president of the Entrepreneur Foundation Inc. in Fairfield. “Our economy is not regulated so much by laws as the realization that transactions only occur when both parties – buyer and seller – can trust each other. Businesspeople are typically involved in their communities, good citizens, who care about their fellow Americans who may be in need. After all, the purpose of business, of entrepreneurship, at its core, is to solve a problem.”