Above: Borracho's Sara Matthews and her Las Vegas Vegabonds distribute goods to at-risk residents, inspiring Semilla Natural Foods to put out carts for drop off donations. Photograph by Makani Nakasone.

The spread of COVID-19 has left bare patches—empty shelves in stores, vacant schools, picked-over pantries. Many people have stepped in to fill those gaps with creative solutions or a determination to keep doing what they know how to do and make it useful amid a pandemic. Each week, we’re pausing to recognize and thank those who are helping to keep communities from fraying. 

Moving the Feasts 

When Sara Matthews closed Borracho’s, the “craft booze and brews” bar she runs in Las Vegas, she turned her attention to her town’s most at-risk residents. She gathered five volunteers, dubbed them the “The Las Vegas Vegabonds,” and converted the bar and a nearby space she’d purchased to someday host a farm-to-table restaurant into a place to gather, sort, disinfect, and repackage donations.  

Through social media and a grant from the Santa Fe Community Foundation, she’s ordered bulk supplies through her restaurant contacts. Then each Monday, group members don masks and gloves to deliver bags of eggs, beans, butter, tortillas, fresh greens, oatmeal, even the occasional splurge on coffee, and personal hygiene items like soap, toothpaste, and deodorant, to doorsteps of the town’s elderly and disabled residents, for whom shopping has become a perilous undertaking.    

“We see a need for this now, and we don’t know how long it’ll last, but we have promised that we will be here,” Matthews says. “We can’t stop, because some of them have told us that they need us, and they don’t know how else they’ll get food.”   

The project spread to other local businesses, including Semilla Natural Foods, which now has carts out for donations and a cooler in back to hold them. Makani Nakasone, whose mother, Jane Lumsden, owns the store, says nothing sits there for long.   

“This project is so much bigger than us,” Matthews says. “We may be the vessel, but the spirit behind our community is why we’ll get through this.”  

Tanna Johnson Rustic Essentials Soap Company
Above: Rustic Essentials Soap Company owners Tanna Johnson and her husband, Steven, have donated soaps to the nurses at Eastern New Mexico Medical Center. Photograph courtesy of Rustic Essentials Soap Company.

Soaping Up   

While watching the news, Tanna Johnson realized people were coming up short on what she and her husband, Steven, know how to make. The couple runs Rustic Essentials Soap Company in Roswell, producing by hand all the soaps sold in their downtown store. She bundled 25 bars and about 15 pounds of soap scraps, and gave them to emergency room nurses at the Eastern New Mexico Medical Center.   

“We just have a heart for nurses,” Johnson says. 

Megan Colby, trauma program manager at the medical center, picked up the donation.   

“We’re already having to ask the state for supplies and having to get supplies from different places,” says Colby, who nominated Rustic Essentials as a True Hero, touched by a small, local business giving what they could. “This coronavirus hasn’t really hit our community real big yet—but when it does, it’s nice to know we have these soaps on supply.”      

His Truck Runneth Over 

Glen Duggins spent much of his life caring for his grandmother and raising his son as a single parent. But when his grandmother was gone and his son grown, he recalls standing in his yard, thinking, What good are you? You’re just taking up air. Get out of the way. That wouldn’t do.  

So he set to work trying to help out around Socorro, fundraising to save the high school marching band and give kids free admission to the city pool.   

When COVID-19 hit, he bought $4,000 in toilet paper and paper towels, then handed them out to a crowd so big the cops came to manage traffic. When he heard the Alamo Navajo Reservation was running out of food, he called the wholesalers who buy his farm produce, drove to Albuquerque, and loaded his truck with beans, potatoes, cheese, hamburger meat, bacon, eggs, and tortillas. He strapped two pallets of paper products on to finish, only to see a gust of wind scatter them down the highway.  

Construction workers and cops helped him recollect them. He’d rolled over a downed signpost in the process, flattening one tire, and had to call his son for a tow. When he arrived home late that evening, fretting about the meat thawing, he was greeted by people ready to drive that food to the reservation. None of it was wasted.   

Micah Mock
Above: Micah Mock has purchased gift certificates and other items from local small businesses in Clayton and then donated them to grocery store workers, school employees and more. Photograph courtesy of Micah Mock.

Gifts that Give Back 

After her art gallery, one of four businesses that Micah Mock runs, had a particularly good week, she looked at the shuttered stores in downtown Clayton and decided she wanted to use that money to help. She has kept going, long after the art sale money was gone, buying gift certificates at movie theaters, hair salons, the coffee shop, and a smoothie bar, and donated more than 100 gift certificates and gift baskets to grocery store workers, school employees still preparing lunches, Dollar Store staff, even local newspaper employees. This week, she plans to visit the police and fire departments and the hospital.   

“I’m open and I’m busy, so I feel very lucky,” Mock says, referencing her concrete plant business, which still has construction projects lined up. “In my mind, if I can support the people who are closed and give it to the people who are on our front lines, then it’s a win-win.”  

Driven to Help 

Teachers with Head Start, a program that readies 3- to 5-year-olds for school, wanted to reach those students with homework packets to help them keep up, but needed an official vehicle to take them. Hope Lesperance, who drives a Head Start bus throughout Estancia, offered to get back at the wheel. 

Three times a week, she ferries teachers among the towns of Estancia, Moriarty, and Mountainair. Some families come to a bus stop, kids and parents alike buzzing at getting out of the house, while others pick the packets up with sack lunches from a school cafeteria. The bus also drops by some houses. One mom built a mailbox just for the homework.  

Two teachers hand out lessons in ABCs, numbers, coloring, shapes, and a journal the kids use to practice writing their names, some of them wearing fabric masks that Lesperance sewed.   

“They tell the kids, ‘I know I look silly in this mask, but we have to do this. We have to be safe,’” Lesperance says. “The kids think it’s silly, but they’re excited to see each other.”   

True Shout-Outs 

Gratitude goes as well to all those who have stepped in to ease the short supply of masks by making and giving them away: Tommie Bedford and Brittany Byrd, of Albuquerque, have made more than 200 masks … Ruth Gonzalez, in Roswell, sews around her nursing shifts … professional seamstress and quilter Kerri Forrest, of Clovis, has turned her needles toward the cause … Pam Burchett, of Estancia, has used her own supplies to make masks with buttons that protect the ears … Klari Serrano made sure a police department in Alamogordo was covered … Sarah Frazier, of Las Vegas, is supplying masks to health care providers and asking for monetary donations to the Animal Welfare Coalition of Northeastern New Mexico.