Community gets creative trying to stay connected ‘from a safe distance’

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East Franklin Elementary School personnel hit the neighborhoods in their school district on Thursday letting their students know how much they are missed. Teachers decorated their cars with signs and balloons and drove through Franklin honking horns and waving to their young students. Photo by Vickie Carpenter

Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer

They say necessity is the mother of invention and in Macon County creative inventors are coming out of the woodwork. The social distancing and stay at home orders that are in effect have spawned a creativity that seems to have no limits. Some local businesses have stepped up offering ways  to stay connected and help out where necessary.

It’s the little things that often count!

Amanda Shaw, owner of Macon Rentals is always on the lookout for ways to help the folks in town.”I am a great organizer,” she’s been known to say, and organize she did.  Shaw explains her idea. 

“I decided to pursue the paper lunch bag idea because Diane Cotton, principal of Union Academy,  told me of the need.  As school lunches have been given out to thousands of Macon County School children, they became short on brown paper bags. This may be a small thing in the eyes of some but it is the little things that keep the big things moving. But this project so far is a success because of our community. I am truly a cog in the wheel and keeping this moving is helping me stay grounded when I am also anxious.

“Even in times of uncertainty and stress we, as a community, are always willing to step up and help. As a small business owner, I just give a huge thank you to other small businesses that are still donating and volunteering even though we are all still worried about paying our employees and bills.”  

Shaw has collected close to 25,000 bags and is still going strong. The lunches require about 5,000 bags a day so donations are still needed.  Monetary donations can be mailed to Macon Rental Company, 537 West Main Street, Franklin 28734 in c/o Amanda Shaw.  She also accepts donations through Paypal at amandajshaw@hotmail.com and at venmo@james79. Even a $5 donation helps.  If you have paper bags you can drop them off at Macon Rental, also.

East Franklin Teacher Parade

Folks that live within the city limits of Franklin may have heard a cacophony of horns honking and people shouting, last Thursday afternoon.  The horns and shouts came from the East Franklin Elementary School’s parade of teachers, and the students who waited on the side of the road to shout back to them. 

Sandra McMahan, principal of East Franklin Elementary (EFE) School explains how the parade idea got started.  

“Kim Clark and Courtney Anderson, two teachers at the school, both saw similar things on Facebook and got the ball rolling. From there I asked our SRO [School Resource Officer], Tom Pruett to plan a route to reach as many homes as we could.  I did a connect call to parents to let them know which streets we would travel in and the order in which we would go. I did remind them with two calls, the importance of following social distancing.  All staff was invited and about half participated.  Those that couldn’t participate were mostly serving our kids and families in other capacities such as driving buses to deliver food or preparing that food.  Macon County Public Schools does a fantastic job serving families.  Staff was advised to adhere to responsible social distancing as well. We had about 16 vehicles. Some decorated their cars and made signs. We all waved and shouted hello and I love you to our kids.  There were about as many older people that came into their yards and onto porches excited to see us go by.  I know there were some tears shed and lots of smiling faces. This is a difficult time, hard for our kids to understand, no doubt. We miss the kids so much and cannot wait to have them back at school.”

Kim Clark explains how she got the idea of a parade. 

“I saw a post on Facebook where a group of teachers did a drive through in their community.  When I saw the excitement and happiness of the kids and faculty I just knew this was something I wanted to do!  I called Mrs. McMahan and described the Facebook event and told her I really wanted to do this either as a school wide event, team level event, or just myself.  I felt that it would help bring closure, so to speak, of being a classroom family (teacher and kids) on a Thursday afternoon, to being isolated from each other, the following Monday.  It’s been tough on our kids, tough on our parents, and tough on teachers being in empty classrooms these last couple of weeks.  Thankfully, Mrs. McMahan was on board with the idea bringing Officer Pruett in on the planning of the route, and a couple of days later we had an awesome EFS parade through Franklin.  It was exciting to see our kids with their families along with business people walking out of buildings to wave at us and drivers honking their horns along with us.  It was like a breath of fresh air after being smothered in smoke (so to speak).  I think one of the best parts of this event was seeing the excitement and enthusiasm in the eyes of my coworkers after a couple of stressful weeks.  I want to thank our principal, Mrs. McMahan, and, SRO Tom Pruett, for jumping on board and making this a memorable event for all involved in the parade and the spectators.  EFS is blessed to have these two special people along with Mrs. Parker, our assistant principal.”

On-line activities for everyone

Rose James, yoga instructor at Cherokee Choices for Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian, decided to do a yoga video.

“After a few days of isolation I was beginning to get anxiety,” said James.  “I thought about how I would have normally taught a bunch of yoga classes that day and because they were cancelled I had excess energy.  Then I thought about how many other people felt the same way and 15 minutes later I was teaching a Facebook live yoga class.  James has also produced a kids workout video via Facebook, which she first aired on Tuesday at 11 a.m.To view any of Rose’s classes, like her Facebook page, for Rose James to do it live, or access any old classes at the Cherokee Choices website. 

Another online activity has been taking place for the past few days thanks to an idea from Brittney Lofthouse, chairman of Safe Kids Macon County.  

“I serve as the Chairman of Safe Kids Macon County and my husband, Corporal Nick Lofthouse, with the Macon County Sheriff’s Office ( MCSO) is the coordinator. As parents ourselves, we know how hard staying home is. Safe Kids Macon County had several events planned this spring that we are having to postpone so we wanted to create something that would allow our community to stay connected with our local heroes, so we launched the #firstrespondersreadingchallenge.  It started with Nick and his K9 partner reading a story and then issuing the challenge to another first responder, and it has grown from there. The stories have been viewed almost 10,000 times in just a few days with people of all ages letting us know how much they enjoy it. We even had Sgt. Mark Tappan who won the A&E TV Show, ‘America’s Top Dog,’ with his K9 partner Mattis,  read a story from Alpharetta, Ga., for the challenge. We hope to keep it going as long as we can and see it grow to different first responders from anywhere.”

Another way the internet is being used to connect students and their teachers is through video conferencing being conducted by Jillian View, Mountain View Intermediate School science and math teacher. View has made several videos on ClassDojo, an app that allows teachers, students and parents to interact.  Last week View sent a message to the students in her class asking them to join a live video chat with her and their classmates. The students finally got to see each other and were allowed to chat with one another at the end of the session. She will be trying to do this on a weekly basis while school is still out. 

Friends of the Library bookstore steps up

The Friends of the Library bookstore came up with the idea of placing books on the sidewalk in front of their store on Highlands Road on an honor system. Many of the books were priced at four for a dollar with some even priced at 10 cents. With folks stuck at home and the library closed, avid readers were able to stock up on reading material at a fraction of the cost. Many people who took advantage of this generous offer paid more than the asking price, adding extra dollars to the collection jar.

Treats to make Girl Scouts smile

Kimberly Pressley, Troop Leader of Girl Scout Pack 12692, sent a little surprise to the girls in her troop. 

“I was missing the girls so much and then I realized how all this is probably so confusing to them as well as the adults,” said Pressley. “I wanted to send them all something to let them know I was here and thinking about them during this confusing time for all of us.”  Each girl in the troop received a package with some sweet treats, a special pop-up balloon and an encouraging message to help ease anxiety. 

Free internet throughout the county

Many folks have been asking where they can get internet service if they do not have it in their home. Balsamwest has established several drive-in WiFi hotspots.  One such hotspot is in the Franklin Plaza parking lot, where Big Lots and Burkes are located. The SSID is Balsamwest and the log-on is Balsamwest.  The library and Franklin High School’s internet also extend to the parking lot. 

Feeding the community

Motor Company Grill continues to offer kids a free lunch. The crew has been cooking 15-20 meals daily.  They are offering curbside pick-up and all you need to do is call ahead to order and the lunches will be ready when you arrive. Motor Company Grill would like to continue to offer this service for as long as is necessary but they could use some donations to help keep it going. Just drive up, honk the horn and someone from the staff will be happy to accept any donations. 

Ace Hardware has joined with Carenet  to offer free food to families. Although since the “stay at home” order has been issued, Ace is no longer distributing the food on their premises. Folks can now go to Carenet on Bidwell Avenue on  Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to  2 p.m., and pick up a bag of food. Folks just have to show up, there is no calling in.  Since the food giveaway began two weeks ago, more than 20,000 pounds of food has been given away along with 1500 backpacks.  Donations can still be brought to Ace Hardware on Palmer street or taken to Carenet on Bidwell Street. 

School buses are still delivering meals to Macon County School kids. Buses are delivering at local bus stops and have also set up food distribution sites at Franklin High School, South Macon Elementary, Cartoogechaye Elementary, Mountain View Intermediate, Highlands School and Nantahala School, for parents to pick up both breakfast and lunch.  Although parents do not have to go to their child’s school for their meal, all schools are allowing any parent to pick up meals for their children at any of the these locations. 

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