Hardship, hope and help in uncertain times
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Hardship, hope and help in uncertain times

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As we enter the second week of challenge, tough decisions, hardship and possible turmoil, I wanted to reach out to the business community, employers and employees alike, who are hurting, if not reeling from the past week.

I will tell you that most people who know me, know I am the eternal optimist. This has served me well both personally and professionally – through tough times, challenges and life situations. I now believe that optimism has been tested more than ever before.

Hardship

Starting last week with school closures, eating and drinking establishment closures, social distancing standards, and great uncertainty as to exactly what this COVID-19 was and how to deal with it – our normal chamber work became a background for our new, more important work.

Hearing from people who have lost their jobs, distancing myself from family (including granddaughters who don’t understand not seeing us or hugging us) plus a great deal of time where our Chamber Team was absorbing and reacting to the needs of our members and the community – it all is taking its toll.

The Chamber office received many calls from businesses. They are fearing for their livelihood with the closures, businesses with many employees out due to caring for children home from school, nursing homes challenged by delivering 600 meals a day to rooms instead of serving in a dining room (and needing more employees to do so), businesses feeling the unfairness of being a singled out industry in the closures (and their neighbors and friends in other counties doing business as usual), and calls from people now out of work and worried about rent. Hotels told of their devastation in the loss of huge numbers of cancellations for current months and clear into the summer. My heart went out to the high school seniors who have looked forward to prom, ACT tests, graduation, spring sports – now all an uncertainty. How our world changed in such a short period of time!

Hope

Hope springs though from stories such as a restaurant who had to totally close but is still offering to give up their to-go boxes if other restaurants needed them. Some restaurants feeding their employees before sending them home (for how long?) and giving them food to tide them over. A local fitness gym offering to let memberships slide until this is over and then prorating for their members. An auto body business offering to run errands for housebound elderly residents. Salons and hardware stores offering their facemask supplies to medical businesses who desperately need them. School teachers who quickly created online classwork and opportunities for their students to keep them on track and connected.

Watching my staff quickly reach out to all member restaurants and putting together a great Take-Out guide for residents and other businesses to use to support those still providing food and beverages for curbside, take-out and drive-throughs was amazing. (Note that post was viewed by over 21,000 people and shared 200 times!) We rapidly put together a web page of resource information that can be quickly accessed (www.helenachamber.com) for all community businesses (not just members). Many Facebook posts were and continue to be created and posted to keep everyone informed. And one of the most important sources of hope are the amazing efforts of the frontline workers, public servants, life-essential businesses, grocery store workers, pharmacists, utility workers, delivery people - literally holding things together in this pandemic to keep society as normal and productive as possible.

Help

I encourage everyone to check out the resource page on the Chamber’s website – it is being updated daily with any and all information we have to help. For those who have lost their jobs (even temporarily) please check with the local job service or the job placement businesses – they have work for you. Many businesses have greater immediate need for a bigger staff and will hire immediately. If you can afford to take a break from working, consider helping Food Share or any other organization that is coping with this situation.

The most important thing is to take this situation seriously. The pandemic is real and the point of social distancing is to stop it so we don’t see it expand in Montana to the extent that other countries and states are experiencing. Practice the highest level of cleanliness – stay safe. Check out St. Peter’s Health for up-to-date information on your health concerns at www.sphealth.org.

If you are able, we ask that you support our local businesses as much as you can during these trying times. If you can’t patronize them in person, use the take-out options, or purchase gift cards to use after this is over. And it will be over ……… always keep your faith knowing that this will eventually end and normal will return to our community.

With much hope for Helena and our great state of Montana,

Cathy Burwell

President/CEO of the Helena Area Chamber of Commerce

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