Coming together in new ways During a time of uncertainty

Bagpiper Paul McNeill, left, of the Village of Hemingway, and drummer Jim Peterson, of the Village of Largo, play for their neighbors along Palms Path in the Village of Largo.

The Isle of Palms Coconuts Social Club brought live music back into the lives of their neighbors. At the group’s “end-of-driveway party,” which it hosted Tuesday in lieu of its regular driveway parties, club Vice President Jim Peterson, friend Paul McNeill and their wives marched through their neighborhood in the Village of Largo to provide some entertainment for their neighbors who lately have been housebound. As event organizer, Peterson recruited McNeill to play the bagpipes while he learned a new skill. “He gave me a snare drum and taught me how to use it and off we went,” Peterson said. They began their march around the loop, stopping in front of houses along the way.  The first stop on their march was at the home of an Army veteran who lived across the street. At each house, they asked if there was a veteran present and what branch they served in.

“Throughout the evening we ended up playing all of the (military anthems),” Peterson said.

As intended, residents enjoyed the music from lawn chairs on their own driveways. But after about 10 minutes, residents began to follow along behind in golf carts and on foot in an impromptu parade. They enjoyed singing along to songs like “YMCA” and “When the Saints Go Marching in” while maintaining the suggested 6-foot distance.

Peterson and McNeill came prepared to keep their neighbors safe, designating McNeill’s wife, Brandy, as the discreet “safety officer.”

“She had her two little dogs in a push-cart stroller, and if people got too close she kind of wooshed the stroller between them,” Peterson said. “We told people make sure they stay apart and stay safe.”

For the most part, he said, people already knew to do so.

“I think what was really good about it was so many people participated, more people than I expected. Probably half the neighborhood,” he said.

Peterson has plans to recreate the event soon at the Élan Buena Vista Senior Living facility, for a special audience.

“My mother is over on the independent living side, so that was an easy choice to pick,” he said.

Village Palo Alto: The Villages Blues Society recently made a donation to the Blues Foundation’s HART Fund, which helps musicians and their families who need financial assistance. Funding like that is more important now than ever, said Mark and Marcia Adams, founders of the society.

“What’s going on is that all the venues where the artists play are shut down,” said Mark, of the Village Palo Alto. “So now the musicians we’ve had come and play with us don’t have a source of income.”

A few of TVBS’ own events were canceled, so the club’s board worked to issue credit back to those who purchased tickets. But they gave members an option to help out if they wanted to as well.

People could use their credits or donate to a fund created by The Villages Blues Society to help Florida musicians who have come to perform for TVBS.

“We can’t take care of the whole world, so we wanted to focus on a specific area,” Marcia said.

The fund is available for anyone to make donations to on The Villages Blues Society’s website at thevillagesblues.com under “Events.”

The donation effort will be live until the end of the day Saturday.

Sumter County: The University of Florida’s Sumter County Extension Office, a project of the college’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is continuing its programs in a virtual form.

Volunteers couldn’t do a scheduled community garden planting at Clarke Park Community Garden in Wildwood because of COVID-19 concerns.

But Sumter’s urban horticulture agent Norma Samuel worked with Wildwood recreation specialist David Ricks on Saturday planting tomatoes, zucchini, green beans and peppers at the garden. The planting was filmed and uploaded to YouTube for the extension’s new virtual horticulture program called Let’s Talk.

 “We do not know how the current situation will affect the people in the community financially. Maintaining the garden allows us to have a source of fresh produce for those in the community in need,” Samuel said.

Extension director Jim Davis brought the UF/IFAS extension’s popular Master Gardener Speaker Series to a virtual platform as well. He led a talk Tuesday on palm tree management, covering fertilization and diseases that affect palms, via the video conferencing platform Zoom.

The Villages: Mid-Florida SCORE’s latest webinar is all about tips for getting through  the COVID-19 pandemic.

The online event, titled Business Survival in the Pandemic, is from 7 to 8 p.m. Monday. The webinar is free and open to anyone interested. People can register through the Mid-Florida SCORE website and receive a link to watch.

 Several people, including Jeff Greenspan, will be discussing important topics business owners should know to survive during this unprecedented time.

Mid-Florida SCORE decided to add the webinar because the organization believes it is a good vehicle for businesses thinking about next steps with everything going on.

“Our role is to help small businesses and with this pandemic we realize a great many businesses are going to be severely challenged and so we brainstormed,” said Barry Black, workshop administrator for Mid-Florida SCORE.

Lake County: District schools are preparing for distance learning, which is already under way in Sumter County and three others in Florida.

Lake distributed Chromebook computers Thursday at Villages Elementary of Lady Lake and Fruitland Park Elementary School to students whose families do not have home computers on which they can do schoolwork.

The district purchased 3,500 more Chromebooks to bring its total to 31,500. Every high school student already was issued a Chromebook as part of a five-year plan to distribute the devices districtwide. The remaining devices will be checked out to pre-kindergarten, elementary and middle school students.

Public schools are closed  through April 15 and must start  distance learning by Monday. 

Village of Osceola Hills: Kathleen Walsh, of the Village of Osceola Hills, has been keeping active during her downtime by meeting with a friend and going for neighborhood walks.

“There’s not much one can do when all our normal activities are shut down,” she said.

When she is not out walking, she tries to keep up her active lifestyle by following exercise YouTube videos and DVDs.

“I keep reminding myself and my exercise class students that this is only temporary,” she said. “I’m quite certain when we get the all clear to go back to our regular activities, we will be rushing out the doors with excitement.”

Harmeswood of Belle Aire: Isolation has yet to be an issue for Ed and Kay Utley, of Harmeswood of Belle Aire. According to Ed, staying at home was already a part of the norm for them.  “We’re not like most Villagers who go like to go out a lot,” Ed said. His hobbies of landscaping and cooking are keeping him occupied.  “We haven’t missed a beat,” he said. “We don’t mind hunkering down at all.

Village of Lake Deaton: Despite staying inside, Patty Herrmann is keeping in touch with all of her loved ones. Herrmann, of the Village of Lake Deaton, spoke to her daughters who live in other states. “They’re making do with the situation like all of us,” she said. One daughter recently underwent surgery to donate part of her liver to her friend’s son. “(He) is doing especially well, he just turned six months and is doing fantastic,” Herrmann said. “He spent around 100 days in hospital but he’s gaining weight and thriving.” Herrmann’s other daughter is an art teacher who is home due to school shutdowns. “She’s funneling all her creativity to her little guy, he’s 2,” she said. 

City Fire: City Fire American Oven and Bar co-owners Gina and Mike Buell were inspired to start what Gina called a “tiny store” when they encountered store shelves emptied of food and paper products.

“We’ve gone to the grocery store ourselves and haven’t found things,” Gina said. “Things are so hard to find right now and we had an excess supply.” So, the restaurant, which currently offers a limited menu for take-out and delivery, also is selling products like paper towels, toilet paper, bleach and food products like eggs, ham, turkey and pasta and alcohol by the bottle at its Lake Sumter Landing  location.

Both City Fire locations, Brownwood Paddock Square and Lake Sumter Landing, offer pickup and delivery within

3 miles. However, only the Lake Sumter Landing location is offering supplies from this supplemental “tiny store.” “We’re just trying to help everybody because what good is our stock if we’re not fully operational?” Gina said.

Both restaurants are operational from noon to around 8 p.m.

Liz Coughlin, Sherri Coner, Cody Hills, Spencer Fordin, Michael Salerno, Ciara Varone, Drew Chaltry, Maddie Cutler, Taylor Myrick, Andrea Davis, Dayna Straehley, Kristen Fiore and Summer Jarro contributed to this report.