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When Friends, Neighbors, and Strangers Came Together

  Summer/Fall 20

Several weeks into the pandemic, it was hard to think—much less write—about anything more than a few days into the future. This was written in early May and the future was uncertain. It may still be. Chaos, fear, and confusion pervaded every aspect of our daily lives, but one thing was clear and certain: the compassionate and caring spirit of Durango and its surrounding communities held fast.  

Locals rallied online to produce handmade or homegrown alternatives to supplies that were otherwise hard to find. Businesses and organizations pivoted to produce much-needed medical equipment for regional health services. And people found one another online through virtual happy hours, hand claps of support, and activities for antsy kids. The response, guided by necessity, put a microscope to the tightly woven fabric of this local community. 

As businesses sent their employees home and students transitioned to online learning, locals convened through community forums. Crafty individuals with sewing machines ramped up production of homemade face masks when store-bought alternatives were in short supply. When a scarcity mentality decimated grocery stores around the nation, nearby farms and food programs turned that mindset on its head by refocusing on local supply. Restaurants cooked meals for food banks from ingredients that would otherwise have gone to waste, and local farms provided fresh, affordable produce to families. There was a comforting sense of reassurance in the union of self-reliance and collaboration. These two ideals—often uncommon bedfellows these days—were no longer relegated to nostalgia. 

Meanwhile, many businesses and organizations joined the national call for medical supplies. Osprey Packs in Cortez transformed its warranty and repair shop into a mask-production facility for the local hospital and health department. StoneAge Waterblast Tools tapped into its supply chain and helped to import N95 masks for medical workers. Perhaps most inspiring of all was the MakerLab at the Powerhouse Science Center, which rallied hundreds of volunteers to manufacture personal protective equipment and respirators when the national supply was drained.

Durango has faced many crises in its history, and without fail, the community always rallies to help each other. The adage that has become a familiar phrase during this pandemic, “we are all in this together,” could not be more apparent in this small town. Three organizations—the Durango Chamber of Commerce, the Business Improvement District (BID), and Local First—came together to create “Share the Love Durango.” The concept was to support our economy by purchasing from local businesses in an online marketplace during the time when these businesses were closed to foot traffic. The participating merchants collectively sold $102,000 in goods and services. Another innovative idea came from Bear Balm, a local company that put together gift baskets full of items from other local businesses. Their “Durango Care Package” included such items as soap, dish towels, coloring books, hand sanitizer, and a copy of Durango Magazine. The packages were sold to consumers throughout the United States in an effort to help sustain small businesses in Durango.

The necessity for social distancing, paired with Colorado’s Stay at Home order, was a painful blow to local business owners and their employees. As we transition to Safer at Home, creating safe workplaces will create new challenges for our community to overcome. If past crises are anything to go by, the recovery will demand a unified response powered by diverse voices. A recent study concluded that a community was more likely to survive a disaster when its citizens, leaders, and organizations cooperated. If the early response—catalyzed almost overnight—in the Durango area is any measure, we’re well on our way. 

All too often, logging onto social media is like stepping into an echo chamber crowded with voices all too certain of their own infallibility. As the pandemic snuck over the surrounding mountain passes and hit home, the tone and volume of posts and tweets were changed. We became more empathic, more understanding, and maybe a little less polarized in our collective isolation. Many shared notes of hope for everyone, not just those with whom they agree. Self-isolation exercise videos and guided meditations were created. In Farmington, local moms organized “bear hunts” for kids. Simply placing a teddy bear in the front window of your house could bring a smile to a child’s face.

Throughout this crisis, we’ve been continually impressed and inspired by our community. The success of our baby steps toward recovery is contingent upon our capacity to support one another. That means keeping our money local by frequenting independent businesses in person, online, or over the phone. Small businesses are the spirit and character of this community. Let’s make sure they’re around for the long haul. 

We sincerely believe that friends, neighbors, and those “strangers” you recognize on Main Avenue have the grit and goodwill to restore our community. And not just to restore but to build an even better place to live for years to come.

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