“Caring Community” Highlights
Interviewed by Claire Wagner and Taylor Scheening
“There was a real sense that we were working together.”
–Rainbow Crabtree, on how it’s felt like a collaborative effort between Nature’s Storehouse employees and the community to make the store a safe option for essential shopping during the pandemic
Rainbow Crabtree and her husband, Joshua Crabtree, own Nature’s Storehouse (Canton, NY), which provides the community of Canton and beyond with healthy whole foods and general health-related body products. Throughout the pandemic, Rainbow and her employees have worked tirelessly to serve the community, managing long phone queues and hours especially during the months when shopping was only possible through individual ordering over the phone and curbside pickup. At the beginning of the pandemic, they quickly developed a low contact grocery system that worked efficiently and provided community members food without the risk of high contact at other grocery stores. Nature’s Storehouse re-opened for in-store shopping a while ago, but has continued to maintain rigorous policies to keep community members safe.
Taylor Scheening and Claire Wagner interviewed Rainbow Crabtree in November 2020 and curated this “Caring Community” highlight in collaboration with TAUNY.
Pictured: Rainbow Crabtree inside Nature’s Storehouse, downtown Canton. Courtesy of Rainbow Crabtree.
Interviewed by Corinne Jacoby and Grayden Overbeck
“I think it is important to be a contribution to the place you live.”
Joel Howie (Canton, NY) is a third-generation real estate appraiser and the owner of Canton Apples. As a son, father, and husband residing in the North Country, he has long been committed to being involved in the community, helping out with his sons’ games among other things whenever he can. Over the spring and summer, Joel donated the use of Canton Apples’ refrigerated trailers to help support local efforts to distribute food to those in need. In response to the need for social distancing, he also adapted his own business to accommodate customers safely by offering sales through a new roadside farm stand.
Corinne Jacoby and Grayden Overbeck interviewed Joel Howie in October 2020 and curated this “Caring Community” highlight in collaboration with TAUNY.
Pictured: Joel Howie at Canton Apples, one of the refrigerated trailers, and the roadside stand he set up to be able to sell pre-picked apples during the pandemic. Courtesy of Joel Howie.
Interviewed by Benjamin Lloyd and Michael Brady
“We have done good work, and it's not to say we are done. You know the need is only getting steeper every day. But there is enormous good will here....I try to always keep going forward, because the needs evolve, opportunities and challenges all evolve.” –Connie Jenkins
Connie Jenkins is the Director of the Church and Community Program in Canton, NY, and has been since 2016. Prior to this, she attended St. Lawrence University and was a newspaper editor for more than thirty years. The Church and Community Program provides food and other resources to hundreds of families in need living in the North Country. Although Connie is the only paid staff member, the program’s work is also supported by many volunteers. In the interview, we spoke to Connie about how her life has changed during the ongoing pandemic, how vital of a role her program plays in the community, and how that role has changed during these times. Connie also talked to us about how young people like us can help to get involved in the community. Programs like the Church and Community Program are so essential during these tough times and we were inspired by Ms. Jenkins’ efforts to help her community persevere.
Benjamin Lloyd and Michael Brady interviewed Connie Jenkins in October 2020 and curated this “Caring Community” highlight in collaboration with TAUNY.
Pictured: Connie Jenkins, Director of the Church and Community Program. Courtesy of Connie Jenkins.
Interviewed by Amy Francesconi and Katrina Randall
"Nothing can fully replace playing music in person, but I've decided to be comforted by that thought. I am glad that ‘live’ music remains a special interaction between humans that can't be fully replicated on a computer screen. Having said that, I'm beyond grateful for all that we've achieved on-line."
–Gretchen Koehler on the value of in-person music-making and the motivation to connect people through music in whatever ways possible during the pandemic
Gretchen Koehler is a fiddler and fiddle teacher who has been working throughout the coronavirus pandemic to bring joy and comfort to the North Country community. Last spring, she started putting together virtual “care packages,” collections of short musical videos local musicians were making to connect with loved ones online. She compiled these “#quarantunes” and “#PlayItForward” videos and shared them on social media each week both as a way to keep in touch with her students, and a way to bring people together, engage them, and support mental health and community morale during a difficult time. To Gretchen, they share the powerful impact that music can have on a community, and it is her way of bringing her passion to a community that has been pushed online due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is important to her for her music to represent and respond to what is happening in the world. For example, after the death of Elijah McClain, she organized a virtual vigil, in which people shared pictures of themselves playing in honor of him, which were compiled into a moving video. As the months go on, Gretchen continues to adapt to the needs of the times, supporting community wellbeing through music in creative ways.
Amy Francesconi and Katrina Randall interviewed Gretchen Koehler in October 2020 and curated this “Caring Community” highlight in collaboration with TAUNY.
Pictured: A #quarantunes post from Gretchen Koehler’s Facebook page (@gretchenkoehlermusic), shared on May 10th 2020, which would bring viewers to a collection of short music videos. Courtesy of Gretchen Koehler (bottom right in mosaic).
Interviewed by Jack Turvey and Michael Arczynski
“Within weeks we were at 200 boxes of each [produce, dairy, and meat products] and still turning people away. We ran this program from June until it ended in August….We were able to distribute over 200,000 pounds of food over the summer.”
Sarah Lister is the Internship Coordinator for the Department of Public Health and Human Performance at SUNY Potsdam, where she has been working since June of 2017. She is also the Coordinator for the Campus Food Pantry, which helps provide food for students and other campus community members with food insecurities. Sarah has been in charge of the Food Pantry at SUNY Potsdam since December of 2018. At the beginning of the pandemic, it wasn’t clear whether there would be much use of the pantry this past spring, with many having left campus and those living locally staying at home as much as possible. Soon, though, things changed when the Campus Food Pantry became a member of the Food Bank of Central New York and had the chance to take part in CFAP, the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, through the USDA. With recent layoffs and many in the community struggling, Sarah led the effort to run this program over the summer “to support community members, and campus community members, who have fallen on hard times.” She coordinated between the Food Bank, the USDA, and many volunteers to distribute food steadily throughout the summer at drive-through pickups, as well as working to move the Campus Food Pantry itself to keep it accessible when use of the space was complicated by pandemic restrictions.
Jack Turvey and Michael Arczynski interviewed Sarah Lister in October 2020 and curated this “Caring Community” highlight in collaboration with TAUNY.
Pictured: Coordinator Sarah Lister and volunteer Joshua DeMarsh '18 at SUNY Potsdam’s Campus Food Pantry in 2018. Courtesy of Sarah Lister.
Interviewed by Rachel Seaman and Emma Nesbitt
“There are several ways a baby can come into this world and there isn’t necessarily a right way and a wrong way, there’s a right way for you and you’re the one that gets to be the boss of that….The pandemic has caused a lot more people to ask for this type of care…[and has] opened opportunities for me to change minds that previously would not have considered out of hospital as an appropriate setting.” - Sunday Smith
Sunday Smith (Potsdam, NY) is a certified nurse midwife who helps families in the North Country who plan on having a community (at home) birth. She also provides well-woman care, treating women’s health before and after birth. Smith serves a variety of people across many of northern New York’s counties, including the women at Akwesasne and Amish women. She has been busier than ever at the moment due to the COVID-19 pandemic creating more demand for her services, with expecting parents being concerned about going to the hospital, and she has seen many in the community becoming more open to seeing at home birth as a safe and beneficial option.
Rachel Seaman and Emma Nesbitt interviewed Sunday Smith in October 2020 and curated this “Caring Community” highlight in collaboration with TAUNY.
Pictured: Sunday Smith with a new mother and father at Akwesasne and their newborn child. Courtesy of Sunday Smith.
Interviewed by Helena Croise and Cole Hamilton
“It gave me a more objective way to consider what was going on…. and try to become more educated about the things that I could do and things that I could recommend that others do, because of looking at the numbers…. From the responses I’ve gotten when I post updates, I think it’s really been helpful to others as well, and so that’s one of the things that keeps me going on with doing it…. I’m not trying to use any of my work to predict anything…. I’m just looking at what has happened…. because we can still learn about where we can go forward, by looking at where we’ve been.”
--Don Straight, on tracking local COVID-19 numbers and trends in relation to the national numbers, and sharing weekly updates with the community through Facebook
Don Straight is a professor at SUNY Potsdam, where he teaches mathematics education and works in the School of Education and Professional Studies. He works with students who are preparing to become math teachers, teaching courses in their program of study and also supervising regional classroom fields and student teaching experiences.
As the pandemic approached the North Country, Don started to track COVID-19 data at the national level and within St. Lawrence County, comparing national and local trends to be able to help people in the community get perspective on what was happening around them. He shared his analysis on his own Facebook page, and soon the enthusiastic appreciation for it inspired him to start sharing it more widely. He has continued to do this through to the present, supporting community health by providing clear and important information that can help us as individuals and a community in responding to the situation and planning for the healthiest possible future, and staying focused on “remaining a community who is going to get through this together.”
Helena Croise and Cole Hamilton interviewed Don Straight in October 2020 and helped curate this “Caring Community” highlight in collaboration with TAUNY.
Photo courtesy of Don Straight.
Interviewed by Shannon Tacy and Emma Doherty
“[The Juneteenth celebration] was an amazing day…. I hope that people who were at that event during a time of national crisis, COVID-19, are starting to understand the horrendous impact of racism... all of these things colliding, intersecting….I would hope that people would look at that as one event—one moment in time where different people from different perspectives, different backgrounds, got together and were able to celebrate… something so meaningful. Maybe there are other things that we can come together, too, on... to come together and share with one another despite the fact that we might have our differences.”
--SUNY Potsdam Professor John Youngblood, talking about the importance of the community rallying around the first Juneteenth celebration in Potsdam, NY in summer 2020, and understanding how the current pandemic and the nation’s history of racial injustice intersect
SUNY Potsdam professor John Youngblood has been active in organizing a number of racial justice marches and celebrations within the North Country, taking care to manage community safety during these events while considering the need for social justice as a vital public health issue in itself. He was thrilled to be involved in hosting the very first Juneteenth celebration in Potsdam this past summer during the extra challenges of Covid-19. Having this event during a time of widespread challenges and civil protest was inspiring to the local community and brought people together during the global pandemic. As Professor Youngblood was born in Texas and has family in the South, Juneteenth holds special meaning for him. This holiday commemorates the time in 1865 at which enslaved African Americans in Texas finally learned that they’d been declared free, well after slavery had ended in other states throughout the union. Juneteenth celebrations are an important part of African American communities’ traditions in Texas, including in his own family, and he jumped right in to help plan it when Potsdam BLM organizer Jennifer Baxtron reached out to the community with the suggestion to have one in the area. Professor Youngblood says, “The giving back that occurs here is really good and very necessary to make sure that people have opportunities that otherwise they wouldn’t have.” He’s clearly one of those who is always looking for ways to give back. His passion not only for activism and civil rights but for the students he teaches created an environment that brought us closer even if the interview had to take place over Zoom at a distance.
Shannon Tacy and Emma Doherty interviewed John Youngblood in October 2020 and curated this “Caring Community” highlight in collaboration with TAUNY.
Pictured: John Youngblood standing straight with his hands behind his back dressed in a Black Lives Matter shirt and looking off into the distance. He is positioned in front of the U.S. Post Office on 21 Elm St. in Potsdam and the picture was taken during a peaceful BLM protest in response to the Back the Blue and Black Lives Matter events happening at the same time a few blocks down the road on August 15, 2020. Courtesy of John Youngblood.
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