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Faces of Hope in Pandemic

Hardship doesn’t build character, it reveals it. Find out what it revealed about these three locals.

Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Lisa Staff

There’s a reason we look to the Renaissance as the birth of western culture. It’s during this window in the 15th and 16th centuries that the arts and sciences truly flourished, ushering in the modern age and enlightening the planet. During this era, great artists and thinkers like Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton and Galileo reshaped the world around them.

And none of it would have happened were it not for the Black Plague.

With the pandemic as a backdrop, with their characters tempered by this hardship, these great minds set about creating a better world for those who would come after them. Today, we were better prepared for a pandemic than 15th-century Europe, but the hardship remains, and so too does the effect that hardship has on those most determined to create a better world. If you need proof, here are three locals guiding this modern renaissance.

LOCAL SINCE 2007 • Jacque Visscher is the art teacher at Red Cedar Elementary School. Outside of the classroom, she enjoys photography, woodworking and spending time with her 5-year-old daughter, Caroline, and 6-month-old son, Carter.

Jacque Visscher

This teacher is patient zero of the local chalk art movement.

During our period of social distancing and isolation, few things brought us together like social media. And while the memes were plentiful and the Facebook posts let us all list the “sky blue” items in our camera roll, they were a way for us to pass the time and make conversation.

But some of the best viral moments of this pandemic were the moments of creativity, scribbled on driveways all over the world. The practice of creating and sharing chalk art became the creative outlet du jour in quarantine, with everything from rainbow-colored butterflies to geometric stained-glass-style hearts garnering likes, shares and comments in the millions.

Jacque Visscher, Red Cedar Elementary School’s art teacher, did not start this movement. But if you’re looking for patient zero in the Lowcountry, this outbreak of vivid sidewalk exultation definitely started with her.

“I didn’t mean to kick it off,” she said with a laugh. It all started with a post she saw online of sidewalk artwork as a way to get kids outside and share their work with families who are now much more prone to walk around the neighborhood. “I shared it with my friends and said, ‘Who’s going to do this?’”

I didn’t mean to kick it off,” she said with a laugh.

It turned out, all of them. And all of the people with whom they shared the idea. Soon, chalk art was popping up on driveways all over the Lowcountry. Some of this art carried messages of hope. Some of it was just pure creative silliness. All of it served as the perfect outlet for Lowcountry youth cooped up inside all day.

“What’s really cool is when my kids at school ask their parents to tag me in their photos. I still get tagged in pictures every day,” she said. “It’s just really cool to see all the kids putting their own spin on it.”

It’s even spread beyond the borders of the Lowcountry, going viral in Visscher’s native Wisconsin as she finds herself tagged in driveway masterpieces across the Badger State. “It wasn’t mine to begin with anyway, but it’s great to see friends tagging me in photos they’re proud to show me.”

And for homeschooling parents in desperate need of some extracurriculars for their students, the sidewalk chalk art project has been a godsend. “For these students, it’s their chance to relax and just do something for them,” she said. “It makes me feel good inside that everyone’s using art right now. That’s what I’m happiest about the most.”

LOCAL SINCE 2015 • Lucy Rosen is the owner of SmartMarketing Communications. In her free time, she enjoys wildlife photography, brainstorming new business ventures with entrepreneurs and absolutely anything that has to do with discovering places she’s never been in the Lowcountry.

Lucy Rosen

This marketing expert keeps locals smiling through family photography.

If there is a silver lining to be found in the dark clouds of this pandemic, it’s the way it has brought families together. Those of us with small children might complain about the sudden abundance of quality time, but on some level we know there will come a time when we look back on these days in gratitude for the bonds it helped us build with our kids.

As such, it’s a great moment in a family’s story to capture forever. Enter Lucy Rosen, and the Front Step Project. Forming in pockets across the country, this movement is providing families with free portraits, shot on their front porch at a safe distance, in exchange for a donation to a charity of your choice. Rosen saw the immense good this movement was doing and realized this was the perfect time to bring this movement to the Lowcountry.

“I saw it on Facebook and thought it was pretty cool, so I just did a post asking if anyone would be interested,” she said.

Hundred of likes and shares later, it was pretty clear people were interested. To date, Rosen has photographed around 45 families on their front porches, using the photography equipment she employs as a wildlife photographer to keep a safe distance. (“Children are a little like wildlife, if you ask me,” she said with a laugh).

These moments she’s capturing reveal families who find themselves closed in together as they wait out the pandemic. Rosen mentions one family where six children and an assortment of dogs all shared the spotlight; another where the children dressed up in patriotic garb for their photo, and one neighbor who had her family portrait shot with her beloved dog.

Children are a little like wildlife, if you ask me,” she said with a laugh.

“Families really enjoy it, and the majority are people who otherwise might never have a family portrait done,” she said.

It not only gives families a keepsake of their time together and raises money for local charities, it also lets Rosen, the quintessential creative type with a social streak a mile wide, keep up her photographic chops while meeting new people.

“I don’t own this. This isn’t my thing, this is for any photographer who wants to participate,” she said. “And even though it started as a coronavirus thing … my feeling is this is going to continue.”

LOCAL SINCE 1988 • Bluffton’s Leah McCarthy moved here as a 13-year-old eighth grader. When she’s not operating Downtown Deli and Downtown Catering Company, she enjoys her Peloton bike, yoga and walking her dog, Pepper. She also enjoys cooking for family and friends. “Throwing a great gathering really excites me!”

Leah McCarthy

This restaurateur is on a mission to help feed those who feed us.

While the onset of social distancing, and ultimately closure of non-essential businesses, was a tumultuous time for most workers, few were hit as hard as hospitality workers. While the place they work could still serve customers through carry-out, the closure of dining rooms and bars meant that the hospitality workers who depend on tips were immediately placed in dire straits. And with revenues shrinking, many were laid off.

Leah and Ryan McCarthy own Downtown Deli and Downtown Catering Company, and Leah long has served as a local leader in food and beverage. Having spent her career in hospitality, Leah McCarthy knew something had to be done.

“Almost immediately, Ryan and I started thinking about what we could do to give back and help,” she said. “During other times of crisis – hurricanes, generally – we were able to give food and bring people together for fundraisers. This was different.”

The result was Hungry Hearts Restaurant Workers Relief Fund, which partnered with Lowcountry Strong Foundation to undertake a two-fold mission. First, to feed restaurant workers lunch and dinner daily. Second, to provide monetary support for partner restaurants through purchasing said daily lunches and dinners.

People are really stepping up, and they want to participate.”

To accomplish this mission, Lowcountry Strong Foundation collects funds, purchases the meals from restaurants, then gives them to displaced hospitality workers free of charge. They have collected more than $70,000 so far from private donors and have purchased more than $20,000 in meals from their 40 participating restaurants so far in Bluffton, Beaufort and Hilton Head Island. Downtown Deli even used its own kitchens to provide Easter dinner for hospitality workers.

The Hungry Heart fund is not only feeding workers and helping area restaurants survive troubling times, it’s also had the happy consequence of bringing together the Lowcountry’s F&B community.

“It really became community over competition,” said Leah. Restaurants that have participated include One Hot Mama’s and Fat Patties, places that directly compete with Downtown Deli and each other for the lunch and dinner crowd. “People are really stepping up, and they want to participate. After their first service, I’m getting texts saying ‘When can I do this again?’ They’re so happy to help.”

And while restaurants are paid for every meal they provide through the fund, Leah notes some are declining to take so much as a dime. Such is the nature of the hospitality industry in the Lowcountry – tested by natural disasters and now by pandemic, and coming together stronger with each test.

“Everyone has been amazing. They’re seeing the bigger picture that we’re doing this for everyone. It’s not the norm in something like this.”

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