Heroes of Our Pandemic Year

Tributes from SoBo residents and business owners to those that went above and beyond.


Wearing a mask has been a common and heroic act by many in South Baltimore during the pandemic.

[Note: This article originally appeared in our print newspaper edition on March 12, 2021.]

On March 16, Baltimore reached the one-year mark of living with Covid. Last year on that date, schools and restaurants in Baltimore city closed and large gatherings were banned.

As a community, we have been through a lot these last twelve months, from social isolation to jobs lost and homes transformed into combined workplaces and schools.

Now that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for the global pandemic, we can look back and acknowledge the people in our lives who helped get us through this difficult year with acts of kindness or sacrifice, large and small.

For the special first print issue of the Peninsula Post, we asked SoBo residents and business owners to send in shout-outs to those they knew who went above and beyond. The collection below is a tribute to each one of them and everything they did to keep spirits strong as normal life was turned upside down during this unprecedented time. – Steve Cole, Peninsula Post staff


Neighbor crafts children’s masks

Celine Planchez figured out how to design masks for little ones and then made them for parents across the peninsula. – Lauren Stephens, E. Montgomery St.

Chalk artist spreads cheer

Jenn Perry runs a small craft business (Violet’s Daughter) that relies on craft fairs. With no fairs in 2020, Jenn expressed her creativity with chalk art. She started doing witty, humorous designs and sayings outside her home on Beason St. I know many neighbors appreciated a bit of cheer during such an unusual time. Ashley Vogelsang, E. Fort Ave.

Librarian brightens pandemic days

Melanie Jacobs has brightened many a patron’s pandemic days with her big smile and positive attitude as she hands over sanitized books preordered for pickup outside of the Light Street branch. She also organized special virtual library events to help keep us entertained, including a show by the talented jazz harmonicist Frederic Yonnet. – Jane Seebold, E. Clement St.

Parents create fun adventures

The “Parents Quaranteam” on the 100 block of West Street (Sarah, Kate, Mike, and Chad) have been awesome parents and neighbors this year. Despite school closures, challenges at work, and a worldwide pandemic, these parents have done everything they could day-in and day-out to provide a fun, exciting, and communal series of daily adventures (including turning the Holy Cross parking lot into a beach) for their kids and our block. – Father Josh Laws, Catholic Community of South Baltimore, E. West St.

Healthcare provider acts fast

MedStar Health opened a free testing site in the parking lot at the Baltimore Museum of Industry in March 2020, months before other sites were ready to take patients. – Claire Mullins, Baltimore Museum of Industry

Resident combines fright and food

At Halloween, not only did Kim Acton have the most creatively decorated, scary house on Andre St., she encouraged donations for the Maryland Food Bank. With the help of friends and neighbors and others, she was able to make a large contribution. Kim is a good neighbor and a thoughtful member of the neighborhood. – Cheryl R. Duffey, Hull St.

Shop owner keeps bread rising

At the start of the pandemic, Sharon Johnson from Cheese Galore and More tacked on a large order of baker’s yeast from her distributor for me. She kept my household stocked with fresh bread when the stores were running low and provided Federal Hill with staples throughout the pandemic. – Meg Murray, William St.

School leader makes learning safe

Thushari Wijesekera has been heroic in her leadership of the Baltimore Montessori School in Locust Point as she has taken every precaution possible to provide a safe learning environment for the teachers, students, and their families at the school. It’s great to see the kids and their families check in and out from our campus. – Father Josh Laws, E. West St.

Mail carrier delivers hope

The dedication, perseverance, and upbeat disposition of Michelle Wakefield, our mail carrier, has been a touchstone for me throughout the pandemic. The example she set by delivering the mail every day with a smile (under her mask) was one of the few signs of normalcy that we could all look to for inspiration and hope. Rich Schechinger, Riverside Ave.

Essential service carries on

When the pandemic started, my husband Stephen Tant (SJT Plumbing) and I had concerns about his livelihood. But a pandemic doesn’t stop pipes from bursting or toilets from clogging. So he and his team carried on and took every precaution to keep everyone safe. He’s also given away free work on his own time to those who cannot afford to pay full price for these essential resources. – Ashley Vogelsang, E. Fort Ave.

Director fights for small businesses

Cathy Rosenbaum, Executive Director of Federal Hill Main Street, has worked around the clock to support our neighborhood small businesses during the pandemic. She facilitated the implementation of outdoor dining and positioned dozens of jersey walls herself to make sure the bars and restaurants could serve their patrons safely. She has been an invaluable resource for business owners navigating the complicated processes of securing government Covid assistance. – Eric Costello, City Hall, and Chris Riehl, E. Cross St.

Parents keep Saturdays special

Melanie and Kevin Nies decided back when all of this started that they would make Saturdays special for their two sons. Every Saturday they set out for a new adventure: to a state park, a trail, or a river. They shared these adventures with the whole community through Facebook posts, inspiring others with their creativity and commitment to having fun. Father Josh Laws, E. West St.

Designer succeeds outside the box

Designer Danielle Nekimken really went above and beyond to make our “Women of Steel” exhibition accessible during the pandemic. She had already designed an indoor exhibition when Covid struck and it became clear we needed to think outside the box. She completely reimagined her design to place the exhibition along the Key Highway fence so it is free and accessible to everyone. – Auni Gelles, Baltimore Museum of Industry

Barber is quick with a smile

From his Fort Avenue barbershop, Jay Crossney stays well in the loop of life here in South Baltimore. Just about every time I walk past his shop, he’s quick to run out and greet me and my dog with a warm smile, some words of encouragement, and a standing offer to help whenever needed. Father Josh Laws, E. West St.

Recycling heroes clean up

Mr. Howard of Baltimore’s Department of Public Works accepted our recycling Monday through Saturday for months at Digital Harbor High School with a great smile. Hard-working city employees came and cleaned up a mess left outside the recycling dumpster on the Labor Day holiday. And neighbor Dave Stock pitched in one Monday morning to help Mr. Howard put into the truck mountains of discarded recycling that was illegally abandoned on Sunday. Julie Gilardi, E. Ostend St.

Restaurateur steps up to help

Every shop and restaurant owner is stretched thin these days. When asked to assist with a clothing and toy collection to provide much needed relief to a church on the east side of town, Billy Hughes of Barracudasjumped into action and provided a convenient collection site for our Knights of Columbus Council and South Baltimore Catholic Community. Father Josh Laws, E. West St.

Market organizer adapts flawlessly

Ann Fiocco, who runs the Saturday Farmers’ Market at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, did a great job of organizing the market by moving it to a new location at the start of the pandemic and maintaining social distance practices under challenging circumstances. She then moved the market back to its original location without missing a step. Dave Stock, Sanders St.

Driver offers heavy lift and a smile

David from FedEx Ground is the hardest working man on the peninsula. Our now frequent interactions with him have made us both so happy. He has an infectious smile and is genuinely kind. I wanted to give him a shoutout for the risk he takes on, his heavy lifting skills, and most of all his smile and lovely personality. It’s small things like this that have made such a difference this year. – Lauren Marks and Charlie Totten, E. Ostend St.

Owners grateful for neighbors

Our neighbors in Riverside and surrounding areas have kept us alive with their generous support and continued patronage of Park Bench Pub during this very difficult year. We literally could not have done this without each and every one of you! – Janice Shih and Stephen Puzio, Belt St.

Volunteers making a difference

Collier and Teka Slade are very active at the Filbert Street Community Garden, a local co-op that provides a home for many different animals and a solid source of food for many in the Curtis Bay area. They also have been instrumental in driving our parish van which makes it possible for our senior parishioners to attend our weekend celebrations at church. Father Josh Laws, E. West St.

Librarians lend cheer, too

The librarians at Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Light Street branch (Andrew, Caitlyn, Cris, Justin, Latesha, and Melanie) not only provide us with reading materials, music, and movies while wearing masks and remaining socially distant, they dressed up for the holidays and brought the same good cheer to their work as before the pandemic. Julie Gilardi, E. Ostend St.

Restaurant owners make me smile

Despite the hardships inherent in restaurant ownership during the pandemic, Mara and Ivars Balodis of Captain Larry’s have both stayed incredibly positive and continue to use Captain Larry’s to bring a little bit of joy to the neighborhood. I can’t help but smile whenever I see one of them walking around the neighborhood or when I stop by for a bit of conversation. – Arthur Swartwout, E. Randall St.

Legendary friend-maker turned 95

Henry Miner is a living legend. In November he turned 95 which gave many members of our community a chance to gather outside of his Fort Avenue house and celebrate with him (at a distance). His service to our country and instant friend-making demeanor makes our neighborhood a happier place. Father Josh Laws, E. West St.

Nurse inspires through resilience

As a labor and delivery nurse, my fiancée Anny Zhuo unwaveringly served those patients who needed her, embracing the uncertainty and fear during the early pandemic. She exemplifies a resilient devotion to her mission and passion, inspiring me, and others, to always stand up for what we believe. – Jonathan Chen, W. Barre St.

A superstar keeps people safe

Nathalie Nguyen of After Hour Nails & Spa and her family made hundreds of masks and donated them to places in desperate need early in the pandemic. She also donated gallons of alcohol to UMMS for sanitizer. Nathalie asked nothing in return; she just wanted to keep people safe. She is a superstar! – Beth Whitmer, E. Montgomery, and Mary Gorman, W. Lee St.

Local school rises to challenge

The teachers, administration, and staff of Thomas Johnson Elementary Middle School (TJEMS) took on the unbearably challenging conditions of distance learning this past year with determination. They rallied to the cause of supporting our children with empathy and grace both academically and emotionally. – TJEMS Parent-Teacher Organization board, E. Heath St.

Music director offers hope

Michael Angelucci is the music director at the Catholic Community of South Baltimore. This year as many of our neighbors have been unable to join us in person at church, Michael provided excellent musical opportunities for prayer in our livestream services. Our Easter celebration last spring and the Sounds of Hope evening of prayer and song were great examples of this. Father Josh Laws, E. West St.

Café owner kept us connected

Month after month when us humans were wearing masks and keeping safe distances from each other, Adama Fall of Koba Café continued to serve the community with his positive spirit, friendly and inclusive nature, and incredible memory for hundreds of neighbors’ coffee orders. He exudes compassion, joy and kindness and shares these attributes with the local young people that he hires and trains. At Koba’s he makes people feel connected in a world of forced isolation. – Dan Strodel, Riverside Ave.

Teacher aids struggling students

My neighbor Laura Knapp, a teacher at Baltimore City College, has been going the extra mile to teach her students virtually during these challenging times. She provides personal support for kids struggling with online learning, spending countless extra hours creating assignments tailored to their individual experiences. Online learning has been hugely challenging for so many families. Laura is one of the great teachers who has worked hard to continue educating our kids during this difficult time. Luke Clippinger, Webster St.

Local business cares for grieving

Victor Doda II and his team at Charles Stevens Funeral Home have truly shepherded our community this past year by caring for families in their loss and grief. In addition, they went out of their way to make St. Francis Prayer Cards and medals to create a special day for the pet owners at the Blessing of Animals in October. Father Josh Laws, E. West St.

Thank you, music lovers!

To everyone who has supported The 8×10 either by coming to shows or contributing to the GoFundMe campaign: We couldn’t do it without you. – Abigail Janssens, 10 E. Cross St.

Community mourns loss

We lost a stalwart participant in our community when Ken Rhoad passed away in October (not Covid-related). While suffering through poor health, he aggressively carried out his duties as the crime and safety chair for Federal Hill South Neighborhood Association and helped maintain Henry Street Park by cutting the grass during the city’s suspension of services. Rich Schechinger, Riverside Ave.

‘Rock Picasso’ spreads happiness

I do not know who to thank for the many, many painted “happy rocks” that sprouted like crocuses in our neighborhood’s tree pits this past year. So, to the prolific, unknown, rock Picasso residing (I’m guessing) within the confines of William, Warren, Riverside, and Gittings – thank you and keep ‘em coming! Steve Cole, E. Clement St.

Fundraiser goes all out

Kris Ruhling quit his six-figure job to create a business that allowed him to help the community during the pandemic. His hands-on efforts include Save Baltimore 2021 to support city restaurants, providing masks to essential employees, sponsoring a Thanksgiving food drive, and much, much more. Zach Hiller, Belt St.

Neighbor cares for green spaces

Mary Braman weeded and cleaned up the garden next to the St. Mary Star of the Sea church on Riverside and tended to green areas by Digital Harbor High School. We are all better off with a neighborhood that is cared for. – Vigdis Jacobsen, Covington St.

Wedding planner helps love grow

As the new wedding coordinator at the Catholic Community of South Baltimore, Sue Lear has helped engaged couples plan and replan their weddings during this challenging year, navigating around changing policies and restrictions. Her compassion has certainly come to the aid of many couples. – Father Josh Laws, E. West St.


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