Residents share good news amid COVID-19 concerns

by Cristin Parker

Local organizations, businesses and individuals are stepping up to combat the economic pinch; the boredom; the shortage of supplies; and lots of other issues the people of Cherokee County might be facing due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Beating the boredom

The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and others started “bear-hunting season,” in Cherokee County on Saturday, March 28.

Numerous Cherokee County residents put teddy bears in the windows of local businesses and residences – each one visible from the road and a car.

“Parents, if you need an outdoor break, take your kids for a ride and say, ‘we’re going on a bear hunt,’” Chamber officials shared in its Facebook post last week. “If you have the bear hunt book -- read it first!”

Rusk and Jacksonville school districts’ staff both held neighborhood parades on Friday, March 27.

Teachers and other staffers piled into their vehicles and toured their communities to greet students they’ve been missing since state governmental entities canceled classes and other school activities due to the virus, on Friday, March 13.

Taking care of business

On Tuesday, March 24, the Jacksonville Economic Development Corporation (JEDCO) launched a limited time lunch program to support local restaurants.

The program provides a 50 percent reimbursement to businesses for buying their employees lunch from a restaurant in the Jacksonville city limits. Businesses must spend a minimum of $100 to participate.

And on Thursday, March 26, orders included those from Zyklus Heat Transfer, which provided more than 80 lunches to its team from Legends Old-time Burger Café; and Texas National Bank-Jacksonville, which fed its staff Cosina Mexicana.

“JEDCO is glad we can give back by promoting sales at our local restaurants and a delicious meal for our workforce,” JEDCO Vice-Chair Nathan Jones said. “Jacksonville is a special place and neighbors helping each other at critical times is the essence of what makes this such a wonderful community to work and live.”

JEDCO Chair Darrell Dement added, “I applaud the efforts by many of our restaurants to extend hours, create special menus, and offer pick-up or delivery services to keep their doors open and their employees working.”

The program is currently scheduled to end Friday, April 10, but an extension is possible. Call JEDCO for details at (903) 586-2102.

The Jacksonville Chamber has a listing of restaurants on its website, Check Facebook or call businesses for the latest updates.

The Rusk Economic Development Corporation is also offering to pay 50 percent of local businesses’ lunch tabs when they buy lunch for their employees from Rusk restaurants.

Minimum order is $40. REDCO will reimburse purchaser 50 percent of the total lunch bill, not including gratuity/tip or alcohol, based on the receipt from the restaurant. Maximum amount of reimbursement will be $100 to businesses per order. Restaurants must be located inside the city limits of Rusk. Program ends April 10. Limit three purchases per business during this time.

Call REDCO, (903) 683-2213 or email

The Rusk Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring its ‘Shop Local, Love Local’ Facebook photo contest to help support local businesses as well.

“Post a picture of you shopping at any of our local businesses,” the Chamber’s Facebook page states. “Going to Brookshire’s, True Value, or dropping off smalls at daycare? These are all local businesses as well as getting a bite to eat; grabbing that coffee; and bringing donuts to work. We also want to see those work pictures!”

Post photos to the Rusk Chamber’s Facebook page; share the post; and like the Chamber’s Facebook page and get entered for daily chances to win prizes from the Daily Grind; Eagle’s Den; Dairy Queen; the Cherokeean Herald; Whataburger; Birmingham Golf Course; D&S Halbert Enterprises and more.

Feeding the hungry

School districts, civic organizations and more are making sure nobody goes hungry as the virus spreads and continues to cause concern.

Rusk ISD’s Food Service Director John Hood on Thursday, March 26, posted “some thoughts I wanted to share -- we are all dealing with this COVID-19 shutdown in different ways. But I have seen great things coming out of our community.

“1: The staff at Child Nutrition has worked long hours to ensure we feed as many of “our” kids as possible -- Doris Lindsey and Avis Leavins especially. They get embarrassed when I mention their names but without them, none of this is possible.
“2: Child Nutrition feeds close to 800 breakfast and 800 lunches per day but we still meet TDA guidelines for nutritious meals. We had started out planning for about 50 per day. (What were we thinking?)

“3: Administrators throughout the district have been on top of not only academic progress but they jump at any opportunity to volunteer to help distribute food to the kids.
“4: Staff, teachers, aides, maintenance, custodial, secretaries, coaches, transportation, technology -- all have been tremendously helpful during these trying times.
“5: I have been texted, called, messaged by members in our community asking if there is anything they can do to help. This community is outstanding.
“6: Decisions we make are not always received as positive but we must abide by the rules and regulations that govern us. That is where the staff at Region 7 goes out of their way to ensure we are legal and compliant. “They are the truly amazing.
“7: Rusk ISD Superintendent Grey Burton and the Rusk ISD School Board, thank you for the support you have given us. Whatever we need, they deliver!
“8: Final one I promise. If we only served one meal, all of this work would be worth it.”

RISD’s Food Service Department ended its second week of the Grab-and-Go feeding program on Friday, March 27, having served a total 1,053 breakfasts and lunches.

Helping Others Pursue Enrichment (HOPE) Inc.’s Kitchen of HOPE reports doing a brisk business last week.
“Yes we’re open and serving hot meals to-go, free for anyone who is hungry,” HOPE Director Ellann Lewis-Johnson posted on the organization’s Facebook page. “We served more than 90 people on Wednesday, March 25, in our Kitchen of HOPE. On any non-COVID day we serve about 40 to 50 of our neighbors.”

Lunch is served 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., Monday-Thursday, at the Kitchen, 595 Ragsdale St., Jacksonville.

“We’re following all CDC guidelines to keep our clients, volunteers, and staff safe,” Johnson said. “We ask that you not gather at the kitchen door. Please come to the door one at a time.”

The Good Samaritan Food Pantry, 190 W. Second St., in Rusk, is providing food boxes to pre-qualified clients, 9-11:30 a.m., on Wednesdays only. Pre-packed boxes of food will be distributed to clients via volunteers to their vehicles only. The fresh produce program, also available on Wednesdays, is open to anyone who needs fresh produce and lives within the Rusk school district.

“We will continue to serve our clients the best way we can, during this time,” organizers posted.

Good Sam’s thrift shop is closed until further notice.

Officials with the Chaparral Center and the Alto Food Pantry also continue to help.

“With so many of us unable to work and disaster assistance checks probably weeks away, things are going to get tight for some of us,” the organizations posted on the Pantry’s Facebook page. “A good number of the people we serve are facing a temporary, situational crisis and only need assistance for a short time. Whether it’s job loss or transition, illness, an unexpected repair bill, or a global pandemic, life’s little surprises have a way of popping up at the most inopportune of times.

“If you need emergency food assistance, call (936) 465-9797 or come by the Alto Food Pantry, 176 W. San Antonio St., Alto.”

The Chaparral Centeris open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday.Alto Food Pantry distributes food boxes every third Tuesday of the month. Additional dates will be announced as they are set.

Wallace-Thompson True Value Hardware store in Rusk is providing lunch for its employees through April 3.

“This is a small way to thank our great employees for their hard work and at the same time support our local restaurants during their time of need,” the business shared on its Facebook page. “We will place all local restaurants on rotation. We urge all local businesses to do the same. Thank you for your business and for shopping local!”

Taco Bell, owned by Southern Multifoods in Jacksonville, donated five 12 pack tacos to the Jacksonville Fire Department on Thursday, March 26.

Like a good neighbor

On Saturday, March 21, area resident Mary Cowan posted to the Facebook group page, All Things Rusk TX!, “I need to share the wonderful things that happened Thursday afternoon at Brookshire Brothers grocery store in Rusk.

“I stopped to pick up a few things and of course shelves were empty but they were working to restock as quickly as they could. I was having trouble getting a couple of cases of soft drinks loaded and Julie Fletcher came to my rescue. And again when I got in line to check out she insisted I go before her (she was next up) and she unloaded my cart for me. Thank you, Julie.

“All employees were extremely busy and I refused help for carry out. When I got to my truck a customer offered to put my groceries in my truck. He did put the cases of soda in my truck for me and even offered to take my buggy back into store. I thanked him but I failed to get his name. All this to say I felt pride that young people saw a need and did not hesitate to help.”

In Rusk, convenience store clerk Matt Sherman put a call out last week to the Facebook group page All Things Rusk TX!, too.

“I work at Skeeter’s here in Rusk,” he shared. “We are running very low on sanitizing cleaners and we are not having any luck finding more. If anyone has a can of Lysol or wipes they would part with, our customers and I would greatly appreciate it. We’re even willing to pay gas station prices.”

Not an hour – and many helpful posts – later, he followed up with, “Thank you guys so much. Y’all are great! An awesome lady just donated a good bit of items to us. I’m not gonna name her, because I don’t think she wants me to.”

Gallatin resident and new mom Jenni Cudd shared this post last week as well.

“I LOVE my community! Yesterday I was on the hunt for baby wipes and reached out for info. Y’all, I had no less than 30 people offer ideas and about half of those offered to grab us some or even offered wipes from their own supply!

“I took a friend up on her offer and she grabbed a case for us when she was at the store. (So we are set! Thank you!!)

“You may be looking around and seeing selfishness from people grabbing up supplies, but I’m here to tell you that we are witnessing amazing kindness and generosity! I’m so thankful for the helpful people in our lives!

“This is an unprecedented time in history. What kind of human do you want to be? And on that note -- does anyone need anything? Let’s look for ways to help one another!”

Carter Blood Care and Bill McRae Ford in Jacksonville held the Spring into Support social distancing-friendly blood drive on Thursday, March 26 and collected 23 pints of blood from 28 donors. Each pint can save up to three lives.

For your information

Officials with the Crisis Center of Anderson and Cherokee Counties are available to assist anyone experiencing a crisis at home.

“Sadly, the increased time at home and increased frustration level of life also increases the likelihood that unhealthy relationships may turn violent,” the Center states on its Facebook page. “If you need help, we are here 24/7. Please call (800) 232-8519.

“If you just need to ask questions, call. Let us help in whatever way we can. If you are immediate danger, call 911 and law enforcement will alert us if you ask them to. Your safety is our main concern.”

The Chaparral Center in Alto shared, “Eldercare Locator is a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging connecting you to services for older adults and their families. Visit or call (800) 677-1116 to find help in your area.”