There’s bound to be plenty of groaning when the year 2020 is mentioned in future conversations, and rightfully so.
We’ve faced a global pandemic, harsh political division amid a presidential election and unfathomable loss. There’s no downplaying this year’s hardships.
But, a year’s end is time for reflection, and gratitude where one can muster it. In that spirit, here are 20 things we’re grateful for that happened in 2020, in no particular order. We wish you and your loved ones a healthy and happy New Year.
1. Restaurants, businesses donate to frontline workers
In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, it seemed like every time we logged on to Instagram, a new local business put out a kind offer to feed our county’s brave health care workers. In early April, when Lancaster city burger joint Route 66 was closed for takeout, its employees loaded up a car of burgers and fries for Lancaster General Health employees. Manheim-based Alpha Bravo Catering also delivered meals to the hospital. And those are just two. We’re grateful to live in a county with so many generous people.
2. Local food businesses get creative
Food service was one of the business sectors hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. We applaud the many ways our local businesses adapted to the challenge, from offering curated boxes of goods available for delivery to Square One’s inventive takeout window or the Fridge’s beer tent, a thoughtful take on outdoor dining. Here’s to all of the people who kept us well-fed this year.
3. Mask-makers of all ages
For those of us who don’t work in the medical field, the thought of wearing a face mask was new, and a little scary. Sourcing them was another issue entirely. Luckily, there was no shortage of Lancaster County residents with sewing skills who were happy to help. From the Garden Spot Village residents who sewed masks for elementary schoolers to Northern Lebanon High School basketball player Zoe Zerman making and donating masks, thank you to everyone who saddled up to their sewing machine to help keep us safe.
4. Teddy Bear Hunt participants
In April, neighborhoods across the country took part in “Teddy Bear Hunts” to keep kids entertained. Locally, residents placed teddy bears in windows or other visible areas for kids to spot as they walked with their parents. Lancaster’s various neighborhood Facebook groups put out calls to help spread the word. Eunice Lehman of Holtwood heeded the call in a big way by putting a 5-foot teddy bear in her driveway with a sign reading “Grin and bear it.” It was a simple act of kindness, and if it made one child smile, the effort was worth it.
5. Providing Wi-Fi to students
As virtual learning became a more widespread — and long-lasting —endeavor, it was clear not all students in our county had access to computers or reliable Wi-Fi needed to complete their course work. So, local churches and organizations like St. John’s Episcopal Church and Lancaster Public Library stepped up to help provide a safe place, with masked volunteers and distanced learning stations. And Laura Kanagy, of Lancaster city’s East Orange Street, turned porches into makeshift classrooms for five Congolese refugee students. This year called for a lot of adaptation, and Lancastrians replied in a big way.
6. Lancaster Cares
As the pandemic raged on, need of all types in our county grew exponentially. To help offset this, The Lancaster County Community Foundation and United Way of Lancaster County joined forces to create Lancaster Cares to fund community benefit organizations that provide food, housing and other critical needs for Lancaster residents. Lancaster Cares has distributed funds every week since March to help our county’s most vulnerable residents. Thank you to those who made this type of financial support possible.
7. Another successful Extraordinary Give
Speaking of the Lancaster County Community Foundation, its flagship annual day of giving, the Extraordinary Give, broke its donation record this year amid a pandemic. The event helped provide much-needed funds to area nonprofits.
The one-day event raised $13.4 million, passing last year’s total of $10.9 million. This has been the biggest year for donations since the 24-hour donation marathon started in 2012.
“In an uncertain year, the Lancaster community really turned out for one another,” said Tracy Cutler, executive vice president of the Lancaster County Community Foundation, which organizes the event.
8. Feeding the needy
Just days after Arch Street Center shut down its indoor operations because of COVID-19 concerns, the Lancaster city nonprofit began serving carry-out lunch in its parking lot to anyone who needed it. In October, the center surpassed 10,000 meals served since the start of the pandemic.
Another organization, Rebel Cause Lancaster, unites “Star Wars” fans in helping the Lancaster community. Led by Kaden Stetler, the group wielded the Force this year by cooking meals for the homeless on a regular basis. Stetler and his team began cooking meals out of the Rumplebrewskin’s kitchen, churning out roughly 700 meals a week.
“It’s been incredible to watch the city step up and take charge to help people who are having a rough time,” Stetler told LNP in April. “It’s been super inspiring to see in a scary time.”
9. Nightly bagpipe concerts
If you drove through a certain area of Rohrerstown at 6 p.m. this spring or summer, you might have heard the sound of bagpipes.
Bagpipe player Michael Luckenbill, 67, played at least 100 short nightly concerts on homemade bagpipes in his driveway for his neighbors.
“I think it’s kind of encouraging,” neighbor Amy Heth told LNP in June. “You’re home and sort of all cooped up and then you hear him and think, ‘Oh, at least somebody else is out there.’ It gives you a reason to walk around the neighborhood and say hello to neighbors.”
10. A boost for a new business
In June, Lancaster women Evita Colon and Solise White launched a GoFundMe campaign for their vision: A Concrete Rose, a book bar that also will be Pennsylvania’s first Black-owned winery when it opens next summer.
Setting a modest goal of $25,000 just to match their initial loans, Colon and White fundraised virtually before hosting an in-person fundraiser at Tellus360 in October. After reaching out to GoFundMe for help in transferring the funds, the duo received $500 through the crowdfunding site’s “Gives Back” program. Then, in September, they were surprised in New York City by a $10,000 check from clothing retailer Express, which partnered with GoFundMe for its “Dream Big Project.”
“It’s crazy, because in business, they tell you nice guys finish last, but that really hasn’t been the case for us,” Colon told LNP in November. “We try to be kind and build organic relationships with the people that reach out to us and it does come back tenfold.”
11. Public art
Lancaster city has a thriving art scene, but we couldn't safely gather in crowds in the indoor art galleries along Gallery Row on First Fridays like we normally would.
That doesn’t mean the creativity stopped. In some ways, art was more visible in Lancaster than ever in 2020. Several public art installations brightened Lancaster city in 2020. With masks, outdoor air flow and proper distancing, artists could still gather to collaborate on large-scale projects. The City of Lancaster enlisted 10 local artists to create 10 different COVID-19 murals.
Keisha Finnie, Adam Serrano, Kaya Hobbs and Kearasten Jordan created “Say Their Names,” a now-traveling art installation featuring faces of Black and brown people who died in police custody. Serrano also created “Conjuring Giants” on the side of Tellus360 on East King Street. And “Garden in the Light,” created by Shauna Yorty, brought sunshine to the Mussertown portion of the city.
Thank you to the artists who braved long days in sometimes unfavorable weather to make our city a more beautiful place.
12. Bald eagle release
In September, a person walking along the Conestoga River spotted a bald eagle tangled in fishing wire. After two months of rehabilitation at Raven Ridge Wildlife Center, the eagle was successfully released back to the wild on Oct. 31.
Since 2014, bald eagles are no longer considered endangered or threatened in Pennsylvania, though they are still considered a “high-profile bird.” We still count this one worth celebrating.
Because the bird is the nation's emblem and the release happened just days before the presidential election, Raven Ridge founder Tracie Young found extra meaning in the event.
“There is so much anger and fighting with everything going on right now, so this is like hope,” Young told LNP.
13. Local female Eagle Scouts
Eagles of a different kind also were cause for celebration in 2020. (And not the football team, to the dismay of Philadelphia fans.)
Lyndsey and Lauren Nedrow, Conestoga Valley High School graduates, became among the first group of women to become Eagle Scouts after Boy Scouts of American began allowing girls to join in February 2019. The rank is scouting’s highest level, an achievement only reached by 5 percent of scouts.
They began attending sessions much earlier though, when their brother was in the pack. It gave them perspective
“It’s so beautiful to be sitting in the troop and look around and see those little girls. You can just see yourself in them,” Lyndsey told LNP, holding back tears.
14. Bobbi Carmitchell and Ashley McFalls
Like many entertainers, local musicians Bobbi Carmitchell and Ashley McFalls got acquainted with the world of livestreaming in 2020.
But unlike most, the duo have remained utterly committed to their streams. So much so, that at time of publication, they will be just a handful of shows away from reaching 300 consecutive daily performances.
Viewers tune in from as close as Ephrata and Wrightsville and as far away as Arizona and Colorado. The viewers have formed a community and friendships among themselves, celebrating personal victories, and leaning on one another in times of grief.
“Each time anyone brings that full scale of what life and death is, we celebrate and grieve together. There have been times where I’ve thought, ‘I don’t know if I can go on, this is a little too tough,’ but then we're all singing and I know everyone is on the other side of the screen singing along,” Carmitchell told LNP. “That part of life just all the sudden hits you of what it is that we’re a part of with these noontime things.”
15. Lancaster man climbs Kilimanjaro with donated lung
David Skalski, 65, of Lancaster, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with his daughter Alaina in October after healing from a lung transplant.
He took something very important with him: the ashes of late Chicago man John Tuzak, whose organ donation made his second chance at life — and the climb — possible.
Because of his reduced lung capacity, Skalski had to end his journey 3,000 feet from the summit. But Alaina continued, taking some of Tuzak's ashes with her to the peak.
“I never once thought about turning around. I knew I had to get to the top,” Alaina says. “For my dad and also for myself, and also the Tuzak family.”
16. Omar Mohamed named finalist for National Book Award
In the graphic novel “When Stars are Scattered,” Lancaster man Omar Mohamed recounts his experience growing up in a refugee camp in Kenya. Mohamed, along with co-author Victoria Jamieson, was named a finalist in the National Book Award in the Young People’s Literature category.
“I’m excited and very happy with the news, because the books will reach more of an audience,” Mohamed told LNP via text message. “I know a lot of people are going to read and learn the real story about who these refugees are.”
While Mohamed’s book ultimately didn't win in the category (“King and the Dragonflies” by Kacen Callender took top honors), we’re proud to see a Lancaster author recognized in such a prestigious competition.
17. Pandemic gardening
Stuck at home in the spring, it seemed like everyone flirted with gardening in 2020. Bloombox, an online garden center in Lancaster, saw sales increase 900 percent.
Lancaster County woman Beth Cardwell grew potatoes, lima beans and watermelon, and said gardening was therapeutic.
“I was so stressed and this calmed me down,” Cardwell told LNP.
Whether this year’s first-time gardeners keep up their new habit, we commend them for trying something new with their extra time at home.
18. Keeping the faith
Many Lancaster County residents are people of faith. And like many things in 2020, the way we worship adapted to fit the times.
Many churches livestreamed services for the first time, working together with their staffs to figure out new technology and make sure church members were up to speed, too.
At St. Mary’s Catholic Church, receptionist Janice Frank spent two weeks making close to 400 calls to parishioners to collect email addresses so they’d be able to receive bulletins and weekly updates. First Presbyterian Church in Lancaster city offered near-daily online videos.
And, in some cases, pivoting to virtual offered new ways for religious communities to connect. Each week of virtual services at Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster virtual services features 12-year-old Ezra Kauffman’s origami talents. He makes a new piece during each service, and shows it off at the end.
“It’s just become a fun thing that we all look forward to. As soon as the service is over it’s like ‘Hey Ezra, what did you make this Sunday?’ ” the Rev. Gascho-Cooke told LNP. “It’s just a sweet thing in the midst of a weird time. We’re just grateful for these bright spots and new little rituals during this time. And Ezra’s origami is one of those.”
19. Entertainment adapts
Lancaster County has a vibrant entertainment scene, from music to theater, and even circus performers. We give a standing ovation to all of the performers and arts organizations who adapted this year, from Prima Theater’s inventive traveling LanCarolers to DJ Salinger’s Wax on Wednesday streams on Twitch and Ephrata Performing Arts Center’s “Santa’s Surprise Party.”
We can’t forget the joy of watching local musicians perform live on a flatbed truck as it traveled through the city, thanks to Music for Everyone’s Music Friday events. It’s been fun cheering you all on from afar, but we can’t wait until we can enjoy shows in our many theaters and venues again.
20. Johnny Weir on ‘Dancing With the Stars’
And speaking of entertainment… we’d be remiss not to mention the joy we found week to week watching Quarryville native Johnny Weir dance his heart out on “Dancing with the Stars.”
Weir’s positivity radiated each week in his interviews, and his costumes were unmatched, from his architectural beehive paying homage to Amy Winehouse to his vampire-chic getup while he did the waltz.
While Weir, an Olympic figure skater, ultimately was eliminated, he still held his chin high on “Good Morning America” the following day.
“The greatest gift that I was given from this process is my partner, Britt,” Weir said. “She’s become my friend, my family, my confidant, and she believed so hard in what we could do. ... I’m so honored, and happy that we have each other.”
And aren’t silver linings what 2020 is all about?