These are strange times, calling for innovative thinking and broad compassion for people who are disproportionately hurt by measures meant to keep us all safe. Across Washington, Holmes, Bay, Walton, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties, that’s showing up in ways both unexpected and heartwarming.

More than one community has set up fundraising sites for people in extraordinary need whose problems were only worsened by the pandemic. Utilities are suspending disconnecting and some are even waiving late fees. And Gannett, the parent company of The News Herald and Northwest Florida Daily News, has created a website ( where people can buy gift cards to use later at small local businesses that have been forced to close, limit hours or restrict browsing due to the virus outbreak.

These are thoughtful ways to treat members of our community, built around one priority: To reduce potential exposures, “flatten the curve” of coronavirus infections, protect the most vulnerable among us and keep our health care network from being overwhelmed. Along the way, however, people are finding ways to elevate human connections in a time when “social distancing” has put other social contact at least six feet away.

Among some of the notable local efforts:

A “Bear Hunt” that sprung up in the Cove has gained traction and there is now a Bay County Scavenger Hunt. The Bear Hunt started as an way to occupy kids, allow them to get some fresh air while spending time with their family and seeing their neighborhood up close. Basically, residents put stuffed bears - and that has morphed into all sorts of stuffed and one resident who placed a deer mount - in their windows facing the street. At their leisure, parents take their children around and report how many they can find. The Bay County Scavenger Hunt is set to run four weeks with bears week one (which ends today), sunshine rainbow week, bunny week and smiley face week. Join The News Herald Facebook page group

The Center for the Arts is one of many entities to reach out virtually to offer fun classes online. Classes include how to pain an underwater scene and a “Virtual Paint and Sip.”

A public Facebook group, “Bay County Resource Group for COVID -19,” has taken wings and has over 5,000 members. The group, administered and moderated by B. Cody Shields, owner of Think Real Estate, offers helpful links, tips and information.

Deputies and firefighters in Walton and Okaloosa received a sweet treat when they were gifted when Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory general manager Ann Woody knocked on their doors. With her store closed due to the virus, she handed out more than 100 caramel apples and dozens of cookies.

Main Street DeLand is working with downtown businesses to facilitate curbside shopping and restaurant delivery. The innovative plan — which numbers some city parking spaces along Woodland Boulevard and other downtown streets — lets would-be shoppers and diners place orders and pay for them, then have their orders delivered to their vehicles.

Tracy and Tom Johnstone, one of the McDonald’s franchise owners in the region, has been delivering meals for health care workers at Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center in Panama City twice a day. Meals are delivered directly to the doctors’ and nurses’ lounges, free of charge. Allan Branch and his family posts daily videos to Facebook thanking a specific medical nurse or doctor for their efforts.

In Fort Walton Beach, Diana MacCargar (with an assist in the form of her son urging her to put her talents to work), has spent her past few evenings crocheting 10 viruses to auction off and raise money for the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society. To bid on a crocheted virus, visit

These are just a few of the many ways our communities are showing their resilience and shared spirit — and we’re fully aware that there are many, many more. Starting later this week, we’d like to showcase your stories about ways that your community or a local business has gone above and beyond to help everyone get through this trying time with as little stress and damage as possible. Tell us what’s touched you — for this project only, we’re relaxing our rule against letters to the editor about individual businesses — and what has made you think. If you have any ideas, please share them.

Send your letters to (for Walton County west through Fort Walton Beach), or for Bay, Gulf and surrounding counties. Please include your name, address and phone number where you can be reached with questions.

In a time when so many of us are facing tremendous stress, uncertainty and fear, the power of community can help pull us through. That’s what we hope to accomplish by sharing these stories.

WRITE TO US! Send a letter to the editor to the Daily News by following this link or the News Herald by following this link .