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Persevering amid the darkness

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“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.”

— Helen Keller

Like most Americans, Petalumans are wondering when the difficult but very necessary practice of self-isolation and social distancing will end. Sadly, the public health orders are expected to last for at least another eight weeks.

But of much greater consequence are the many business closures designed to lessen the spread of the coronavirus. This has caused real pain for people suddenly out of work and unable to make their rent or mortgage payments. Many Petaluma small business owners are unsure if they will be able to reopen at all.

Though temporary, the sudden and steep economic decline triggered by the global pandemic is likely to last well beyond the point when the curve is bent and new cases of the virus decline and eventually disappear entirely. A vaccine will be developed to inoculate people against COVID-19, but that is likely many months away. The rapidly worsening economic calamity is something which only our elders will recognize from their own experience during the Great Depression of the1930s.

The uncertainty about when this nightmare will be over has spawned fear and even some anger at our president whose bungled response to the outbreak has greatly worsened the crisis for all Americans. But fear and anger are, of course, quite counterproductive at this time.

Instead, we can take a lesson from members of the Greatest Generation who grew up during the Great Depression and either fought or made immense sacrifices to win World War II.

The Greatest Generation overcame their fears. On the whole, they were generous, empathetic, hard-working and did whatever they could to help their country and their neighbors in need. In contrast to current complaints over park closures or the lack of toilet paper at the grocery store, members of the Greatest Generation willingly abided by the national rationing programs established for basic provisions like coffee, sugar, meat, cheese, milk, even gasoline. Millions of Americans answered the call to plant Victory gardens to ensure that soldiers would have enough food to win the fight. In other words, they adapted.

Today in Petaluma, such adaptation is well underway along with people coming together to help those in need.

Despite having laid off employees after their sales plummeted, three local distilleries decided to innovate. They quickly shifted from making booze to manufacturing hand sanitizer, an increasingly rare commodity now being supplied to a variety of frontline responders at the Petaluma Health Center and the Petaluma Fire Department.

Clover Sonoma’s Marcus Benedetti donated $100,000 to the Petaluma Valley Hospital Foundation’s COVID-19 restricted fund to purchase respirators needed to keep people alive when the expected surge in COVID-19 cases arrives sometime in the next couple months. He challenged others, including local services clubs like Rotary, to donate to the fund which is also underwriting the purchase of personal protective gear such as face masks, face shields, gowns and gloves necessary to keep nurses and other first responders safe.

Blake Miramont, owner of Architectural Plastics, showed some classic American ingenuity by retooling his McDowell Boulevard plant to manufacture thousands of plastic face shields for Bay Area health care workers.

Volunteers are helping the Petaluma People Services Center rapidly expand its Meals on Wheels program delivering hot meals to seniors in need, while the agency’s counselors have launched online therapy sessions to patients sheltering in place.

SRJC employee KC Greaney and a small army of volunteers got to work manufacturing cloth masks to protect clients at the COTS homeless shelter while dozens of others donated needed fabric or elastic.

Petaluma area Rotarians organized a badly-needed local blood drive last week at a downtown church and are hosting an event this Saturday providing free boxed lunches to recently unemployed workers in the hard-hit hospitality industry.

To brighten the spirits of their neighbors, some Petaluma musicians have hosted impromptu street concerts in which participants gather at a safe distance from one another to listen and dance.

Even a small revival of the WWII-era Victory gardens is getting underway locally as more homebound residents look for wholesome ways to grow their own food and get some exercise.

In these and many other ways, Petalumans have shown great resilience during what is likely to be the darkest period of their lives. Like those in the Greatest Generation, they have begun to meet the challenge head-on with kindness, gratitude, hope and courage. May their commitments continue to grow in the arduous months ahead.

(John Burns is former publisher of the Petaluma Argus-Courier. He can be reached at john.burns@arguscourier.com.)

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