When someone walks into Belly Buster Sub Shoppe, owner Tracey Mills or one of her employees rushes to the door with a bottle of cleaning spray and a rag to clean the door handles with their glove-covered hands.
After the person leaves, they do it again.
Under normal circumstances, Mills would hope her customers would walk into the store and smell the meats, the cheese, the fresh bread. Now, she hopes they can’t smell the food at all. She’d rather customers would just smell that it’s clean.
Much has changed since the administration of Gov. Mike DeWine issued guidelines and edicts and made suggestions to try to stem the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Ohio. Schools are closed. Restaurants and bars are closed for all but take-out. Non-essential businesses and public places are locked up tight.
It was a sudden change for a pandemic that started last year in China, and spread to other parts of the world.
It appears the effects of the pandemic first reached Brookfield in a public way when the Brookfield Historical Society on March 6 posted on Facebook that it had canceled its March 12 meeting “due to personal scheduling and concern over the virus.”
Things cascaded the next week when Penn State Shenango in Sharon canceled Earth Fest, which had been scheduled for April 4, and the Upcycled Art Contest that Brookfield students have entered and won prizes in over the years; the family of Trey Filer postponed Treystock, the annual rock concert and charity fundraiser, which had been set for April 4 at Tiffany’s Event Center, Brookfield; and Trumbull County Planning Commission Executive Director Julie Green said public outreach efforts in regards to the revitalization project in southern Masury had been postponed.
Other cancellations followed: Brookfield school Supt. Toby Gibson’s “Saturday Morning Coffee” public event; the Brookfield High School Football Booster Club’s “Night at the Races” fundraiser; and Brookfield United Methodist Church’s spaghetti dinner and spring craft show.
The governor speaks
The DeWine administration on March 12 ordered schools to close for three weeks beginning March 17, and barred any event that “brings together 100 or more persons in a single room or a single space at the same time.”
Gibson canceled classes as of March 13, and teachers put together “blizzard bags” – a reference to snow days – which he described as “hands-on, tangible,” assignments and activities they can do at home without books or internet access.
Gibson told the school board March 18 he and his staff already were formulating a plan for the case in which the school closing order gets extended. It was, until May 1. Officials circulated a petition to families to try to gauge who has computers and access to the internet, and have been contacted by companies that offer free resources and help with distance learning.
“Those are all things that we’ll sit down and look at and what’s the best fit for Brookfield and its students moving forward,” Gibson said.
The township trustees announced on March 13 that they were closing the township banquet hall and park until further notice, and shut down the senior citizens van service three days later.
Closing the park was not a decision that came easily, said township Trustee Dan Suttles. With so few outlets for recreation, it seemed it would be ideal for people to walk in the park and maybe hit a ball at the fields.
“The thought was: We have a playground: What if we have a bunch of kids in close proximity?” Suttles said.
With the banquet hall closing, the township had to immediately cancel four events.
“It wasn’t like it was a shock to anybody,” township Officer Coordinator Tabatha Dickson said of how the trustees’ announcement impacted those who had booked the hall. “They were already prepared.”
Tiffany’s Events Center was just coming out of a slow period when the order came down, and had to initially postpone six events, many of them fundraisers.
“We’re booked so hard this year,” said Tiffany’s Manager Sandy Superak. “I don’t have dates to move them to. We have been slow, and we finally hit a busy season and I can’t even have our busy season.”
Yankee Lake Ballroom had to postpone or cancel a swap meet, a Corvette Club event and a gun show.
“I don’t know what’s gonna happen,” said John Jurko, president of Yankee Lake Inc., which owns the ballroom.
Strimbu BBQ canceled
Strimbu Memorial Fund announced March 18 that it was canceling its annual fundraising BBQ in May, an event so popular that it typically fills Yankee Lake Ballroom and spills outside to an adjoining tent.
“Kind of a sad thing,” said Bill Strimbu, board member of the fund and son of the man the fund honors, Nick Strimbu.
“We had a pretty good run, there,” he said of the 30 consecutive years the BBQ was held.
The fund has been returning ticket purchase funds and auction donations, he said, although at least one sponsor, First National Bank, said to keep the money.
The fund still will grant college scholarships, in a manner yet to be determined, but the money will not be available until the second semester of the recipients’ freshman years, Strimbu said.
“Our fund got pretty beat up in the (investment) market,” he said. “We have to be fiscally responsible.”
As part of that fiscal responsibility, the fund will “drastically” cut back on its giving to local charities in December.
Last year, the fund gave away nearly $200,000 to support entities that provide food and crisis responses, afterschool and education programs, economic development, pregnancy services and work initiatives.
As the month progressed, the state of Ohio’s orders started to affect normal government operations. The trustees canceled a March 16 meeting with Aqua, the March 30 department head meeting, and the April 4 regular meeting.
A meeting March 25 with the Trumbull County Engineer’s Office which is typically is held in person was instead held by teleconference.
The trustees added a March 31 meeting in order to approve motions related to the township budget, which is subject to state timelines, but the only people that were allowed to be present were township officials. Members of the public can watch the meeting on the township’s Facebook page.
The trustees are following guidance from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which has evolved quickly. Attorney General Dave Yost put a video on his office’s Facebook page to address concerns about how local government officials can carry out business while still meeting their requirements under the law. He said the law required members of a local government board, such as a board of trustees to meet in person. Later, his office put out a memo saying that such boards, in times of a public health crisis, could meet via teleconference, something that is allowed in Pennsylvania.
Public bodies still must allow public access to their meetings, the attorney’s general’s office said, and live streaming, such as through Facebook Live, would seem to suffice.
The Ohio General Assembly on March 25 passed legislation permitting governing boards to use technological means to meet.
Trustees sought the opinion of the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s Office, and Assistant Prosecutor Jason Toth said there would be no harm in canceling regularly scheduled meetings as Ohio law does not require a board to meet a certain number of times. It also supported allowing public viewing through electronic means, and said case law has established that a governing board is under no obligation to provide an opportunity for public comment.
The school board held its regularly scheduled meeting on March 18. Gibson said he didn’t want to leave people hanging in the middle of the crisis. Aside from the five school board members and two school officials, the only people who showed up were an invited presenter, Police Chief Dan Faustino and a reporter.
The board has changed its April meeting date to April 22, and it was still on as of press time.
As businesses closed and their workers were laid off, efforts were made for emergency assistance.
Brookfield Local School District started providing lunches three days a week, and have since reduced the number of days to two to limit possible exposure. Parents and guardians could go to the school between 11 a.m. and noon Monday, Wednesday and Friday – Friday has since been eliminated – and school buses are dispatched into neighborhoods: Brookfield Acres and Addison Field from 11 to 11:30 a.m.; and Standard Avenue and Miller Street and Syme and Ohio Street from 11:30 a.m. to noon. On March 29, Gibson announced that two stops were added: Stevenson Heights and Yankee Run Golf Course, from 10:30 to 11 a.m.
The school has provided sandwiches, soups, salads, carrots, apple slices, milk and juice, among other offerings.
On March 18, the first day the school provided lunches, Chris Thompson said her two boys were excited to see what was in the bags, and she was grateful for the “big time” help in feeding her family.
“I’m not working right now,” said the resident of Brookfield Acres.
Dawn Kloss collected three lunches for her kids at Addison Field.
“It means a lot,” she said. “There are so many people who can’t get food right now,” noting she went grocery shopping the day before, but meat was sold out.
Kloss also is not working, and a son was laid off when the DeWine administration closed fitness centers, such as the one where he worked.
It took a bit of work to get the lunch program set up, said school Food Service Director Donna Bailey. Approvals were needed by the state and federal governments, and the Trumbull County Health Department, she said. The program will continue until school resumes or “the governor tells us to stop,” Bailey said.
School board President Ronda Bonekovic praised the effort.
“I was losing sleep that kids were not going to be able to eat,” she said.
Separately, elementary Principal Stacey Filicky reached out to the 50 families who receive food through the Brookfield Backpack Charitable Fund, and made arrangements for them to collect the food that normally would be sent home on Fridays.
Brookfield United Methodist Church and SixFourteen Church expanded their emergency food efforts by opening food pantries: SixFourteen, 1382 Broadway Ave., from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and BUMC, 6951 Grove St., from 9 a.m. to noon Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Call ahead to place an order with BUMC at 33-448-1001.
Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church, 8148 Ulp St., hosts a pantry from 10 a.m. to noon the third Saturday of the month.
School Supt. Gibson said middle school Secretary Dawn Burns, who oversees the district’s food pantry, was making items available to the churches.
BUMC and SixFourteen traditionally have used the pantries in emergencies, but organizers felt the coronavirus and the resulting government orders closing businesses, limiting gatherings and encouraging social distancing have made food availability a community-wide problem.
“With everything that’s going on, we wanted to create an opportunity for people to get what they need if they fall behind,” said SixFourteen Pastor Jared Woodward.
BUMC Pastor Dick Smith said he is buying food from Second Harvest, the area’s supplier of food pantries, and some items will be free. The church also accepts items and money donated to it and from Belly Buster Sub Shoppe, 6949 Warren Sharon Road, which offers a discount to customers who bring in a food item for donation to the pantry.
SixFourteen also has a pantry stationed outside its building that is stocked with food and personal care items. Anyone who needs something can visit the pantry at any time, and community members who want to help stock it can do so.
Other charitable efforts
Jason Cooke of Healthy Hearts and Paws Project delivered dog food and human food to shut-ins, and a couple of BUMC members handed out vouchers for free meals at the church’s spaghetti dinner March 21 to laid-off restaurant employees.
On March 23, Brookfield Drive-In and Wings of Time Part 2 gave away 100 gallons of milk at the drive in, 862 S. Irvine Ave.
“We were just looking for a way to do something,” said Lenisa Scutillo, owner of Wings of Time Part II and marketing director for the drive-in. “A lot of friends have lost a lot of jobs.”
Tabitha Martin of Masury appreciated the milk. She said she had been unable to get milk, even though she works for a local grocery store.
“It’s a good idea,” she said of the giveaway.
“I think that it’s awesome that they did this,” said Tina Swope of Sharon, who is laid off. “We help with my grandchildren, so it’s (milk) helpful when they come over.”
Drive-in co-owner Jenetta Christy said she had received a donation for another giveaway and hopes to be able to bundle milk with eggs and bread. No date for the second event had been announced as of press time.
Brookfield Fire Chief David Masirovits said people had brought in food and cleaning supplies for the firefighters, and Gibson said these efforts and others are typical of Brookfield. Gibson said his staff has had no qualms about coming in to put together the grab-and-go food program, and many community members contacted him offering any assistance they could provide for the food program.
“This community has really pulled together, and I could not be more proud to be a part of it,” Gibson said. “I will commend all people, police and fire, the pantries, churches, community members, everybody’s willing to pitch in, and it’s amazing.”