There’s no denying 2020 was a very difficult year, filled with fear and loneliness, anxiety and stress. But amid the gloom there were bright spots. There were enough of them, in fact, for us to launch a popup newsletter, Best of Times in the Worst of Times, that came out weekly from March to May, highlighting uplifting and good things happening in Berkeley.
The community rallied in a crisis. Residents chalked messages of encouragement on sidewalks, put teddy bears and rainbows in their windows, volunteered at food banks, organized neighborhood support groups and live music and singalongs in the streets to cheer each other up. Individuals and local businesses, as well as restaurants, joined forces to offer mutual aid to those most at risk of contracting COVID-19. Responding to market need and quarantine restrictions, many businesses pivoted and started offering pandemic-friendly goods and services.
Also, neighbors stepped up to thank their longstanding mail carriers as they retired (even as the postal service came under undue pressure), Berkeley’s most ambitious affordable and homeless housing project broke ground, and Oakland got its own dedicated local news platform with the launch of Berkeleyside’s sister site, The Oaklandside.
There were good news Berkeley stories in 2020. Here are 10 of them.
Berkeleyan Mila Mangold celebrated her 113th birthday
In a remarkable achievement, longtime Berkeley resident Mila Mangold celebrated her 113th birthday in November, reportedly making her one of the 30 oldest people in the entire world. The coronavirus is the second pandemic Mangold has lived through. Her son says she has clear memories, growing up in Nebraska, of the 1918 Spanish flu.
HelpBerkeley brought affordable restaurant meals to seniors and others at risk
The volunteer-run group HelpBerkeley works with local eateries to provide two meals for $10 to those over 60 or self-isolating. Founded by Michel Thouati, who has a background in tech startups, the group has delivered as many as 25,000 meals since the beginning of the pandemic and was slated to deliver hundreds more over the winter holidays.
Neighbors gave veteran mail carriers celebratory send-offs
Kerry Jones was close to tears at the huge tribute paid to him in April by Bateman neighborhood residents who described him as unfailingly cheerful and dedicated even as he put himself at greater risk during the pandemic. Then, in December, mail carrier Chuck Fraijo, who, it turns out, once painted a stunning mural in the post office at 2111 San Pablo Ave. — was thanked profusely for his 37 years of service by residents of his North Berkeley route.
Enterprising kids launched a ‘good news’ neighborhood newspaper
LuBuu Bouvet, the 9-year-old editor of the 3 Cheers Newsletter (subtitled “Delaware, California and McGee Good News”) said its purpose was to bring joy during a difficult time. Inspired by a newspaper produced by kids in San Francisco, 3 Cheers stories have included advice on how to live a long life from 100-year-old neighbor Julie, (“Take it easy, eat good food and forgive”), a neighbor’s attempt to rescue a crow from being attacked by a pet cat and a crowd-favorite section titled, “Meet the animals of DelCalMcGee.”
Comfort go-tos helped sustain some local businesses
While most Berkeley businesses struggled to survive this year, some found their customers wanted more of their products than ever. Call it a comfort food (and drink) thing: Emilia’s Pizzeria, The Local Butcher Shop and Vintage Berkeley were busier than ever.
Residents posted flyers offering support to neighbors
Sometimes an old-fashioned approach is called for. During one of the firs lockdowns, three people in Berkeley eschewed the internet and instead posted flyers near their homes encouraging neighbors to call them, whether to ask for help or simply to chat in lonely times.
Berkeley metal shop stepped up for nurses, doctors
In April, the owners of a West Berkeley metal shop pivoted to help address a nationwide shortage of PPE for frontline health workers and began manufacturing face shields attached to baseball hats. The initiative took off big time, earning significant financial support from the community through a crowdfunding campaign and a donation of hats from the San Francisco Giants.
More people saw the appeal of ‘homesteading’
This year more people started ‘homesteading’ — growing vegetables, raising chickens, setting up beehives and preserving in response to the coronavirus pandemic. They also baked sourdough bread, mixed up kombucha and got seriously into gardening. Some did so as a way to avoid busy markets. Others found the benefits included getting outdoors and getting some exercise while observing the shelter-in-place rules, keeping children occupied and enjoying time with family.
Oakland got its own local news platform
June saw the launch of Berkeleyside sister site The Oaklandside, under the umbrella of our new nonprofit news organization Cityside. The nascent Oaklandside team had sprung into action in February, before their site went live, reporting on the impact of COVID-19 on Oakland via Berkeleyside. Now, 433 stories later, and with an eight-strong newsroom, The Oaklandside is being given a warm reception by Oaklanders, more than 14,000 of whom have signed up for its newsletter, and 1,500 of whom have made donations to support its civic-minded journalism. “We love what you’re doing! There’s no substitute for good, local reporting,” wrote one new member this week.