On a patio where patrons normally converse and imbibe cocktails under a string of lights, they instead lined up with wish lists, hoping to stock up on toilet paper, ground beef, romaine lettuce, avocados, brioche buns and ground beef.
That set-up was created by John Miller and Josh Brown of Vida Taco Bar in Severna Park. Knowing their customers were finding empty shelves and long lines at grocery stores after the onset of the COVID-19 coronavirus, they used Brown’s purveyor connections to transform Vida Taco Bar into more than a restaurant.
“We wanted to start a little convenience store to help people out,” Miller said. “A lot of people are out of toilet paper and pasta. In a matter of hours, we were able to set up a pop-up mini mart. In this difficult time, it’s allowing us to explore our creativity and options we considered in the past.”
In late March, Vida Mini Mart became a destination not just for tacos and margaritas but also for bread, produce and eggs. Miller said the extra profits are going to Vida employees, who are working hard to prepare food and fulfill customer requests.
Hours are 4:00pm to 7:30pm Tuesday through Sunday, with carryout available until 8:00pm. The address is 541 Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard in Severna Park.
“We’re trying to do something for the community to help as much as we possibly can,” Miller said.
Like Vida Taco Bar, SPAN has been focused on getting food and essential items to people. Ellen Kinsella, SPAN’s director of development, and Jennifer Pumphrey, SPAN’s director of operations, have asked people to show their identification through a window to get food SPAN left on its porch behind Our Shepherd Lutheran Church.
SPAN relies on donations from the community to give back to families in need, and there has been no shortage of kindness despite the pandemic.
“Community members have been dropping off food just out of the kindness of their hearts. It’s unbelievable,” Kinsella said. “Shauna Talbot came by; she had a $250 check and she brought us oranges and fresh juice and milk. People like her are what keep us going.”
Though SPAN serves Severna Park, Arnold, Millersville and Broadneck, Kinsella said surplus items are going to families outside that area who need help.
“This way if they’re truly hungry, they can get enough to get them going with their family to last them, at least one more day, because the pantry that serves Glen Burnie is only open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays,” Kinsella said.
As a member of the medical community, Dr. Richard Garden of Chesapeake Oral Surgery Associates used his connections to get supplies to emergency workers. After calling University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Neel Vibhakar, Garden put out a call to action on the “Chatter in Severna Park” Facebook page as he sought to collect medical supplies for the hospital.
“If our doctors and nurses go down, not only the licensed practitioners but the lay people, and the hospital staff breaks down, what will we do when we get sick?” he said.
Garden also reached out to his network of dentist and doctor contacts. He heard back from Alan Binstock, Yeremi Canizales, John O’Melia, Mairead O’Reilly, Stephen Molz, Kimberly Burroughs and Robert Martin. Together, they collected 3,500 pairs of gloves, 100 gowns, 1,750 surgical masks and 100 N95 masks.
Since then, doctors Lee Kleiman, Karen Nyekoleh Mygil and Allan Schulman collectively donated 500 masks and thousands of gloves.
“The N95 masks are as precious as gold right now,” Garden said. “These guys are selfless. I’m just the delivery guy.”
Countless other businesses and nonprofits worked tirelessly to bring services to people.
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church collected cash donations to help people with rent, food and electric bills. The church was also collecting baby supplies for the Annapolis Family Support Center during Lent.
On March 25, Anne Arundel Community College donated 119 boxes of medical supplies to Anne Arundel Medical Center, University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center, and the Anne Arundel County emergency operations center.
Monica Alvarado, owner of Bread and Butter in Annapolis, partnered with Anne Arundel Connecting Together to pay restaurants to make food for hungry families. The effort helped restaurants during a time of dwindling business while also aiding food-deprived families.
Other restaurants and liquor stores worked to expand their services, many of them offering curbside service and delivery for the first time. Severna Park Taphouse started giving away a free roll of toilet paper with every order.
That service was appreciated, but it also took a toll. Garry’s Grill was one business that started delivery to help customers, but temporarily closed to protect its workers.
“At the end of the day, your health is what’s most important; if you don’t have that, nothing else matters,” owner Eddie Conway wrote in a Facebook post. “We feel we are at the point where the risk is simply not worth the reward to anybody … we cannot thank you enough for everything!”
In a time of need, Severna Park looked to its local businesses and nonprofits for support, and they didn’t disappoint. Patrons hope to be sipping on cocktails and gathering with friends again soon, but for now, they at least have the food and essential items to survive.