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Inside Beat

How small businesses are helping their communities during coronavirus

Small businesses like Hidden Grounds are using their resources to aid others during the global pandemic, while still trying to stay afloat.  – Photo by Photo by The Daily Targum | The Daily Targum

During these difficult times, it’s hard not to think of the relationship we, as customers, hold with businesses. It’s too easy to think that businesses are all evil and capitalism is toxic in every way. But real life is much more complicated than that. 

It’s very apparent in this pandemic which businesses care about their employees and their customers and which ones do not — which business owners represent the one percent and which ones are just like us, struggling financially and trying to make sense of our lives in this traumatic time. There are businesses out there which do, in fact, care and are struggling just as much as we are.

Things are hard now. It’s hard to get out of the negativity cycle of this whole situation. It’s difficult to see even a single light at the end of this very dark tunnel. Sometimes we just want a distraction and to help our community as much as we can. Lightbridge Academy and Hidden Grounds Coffee — unrelated on the surface — provide just that.

Lightbridge Academy is an early learning center for infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers with more than 100 locations throughout the North East and several in New Jersey. It offers a comprehensive educational program for children and represent a helping hand for working parents. 

Due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, it had to get creative. 

Jennifer Romanoff, the vice president of education and training, started doing daily livestreams on the company’s home office Facebook page. There are three live sessions every day, Monday to Friday. 

“We wanted to step in and give them something not only to engage in, but something that keeps their children learning, something that is fun,” Romanoff said. “Something that is thematically based, which is what all of our children are used to, and something that gives parents just a little bit of breathe time or a break in a day.”

At 9:30 a.m., there is a group time or circle time where Romanoff sings the "Good Morning" song and goes over the days of the week, the months of the year and the alphabet. They have a theme of the week that they go over (last week’s was community helpers). Then they do a project that the kids can do during the livestream or after, with home supplies posted the night before. 

“The best part is coming in every morning and going to our Facebook page and seeing all the comments and all of the pictures that the children are sending in,” Romanoff said. 

The second session is at noon, where they do yoga or meditation and read a relaxing book for nap time. Then at 3 p.m., they do some dancing or movements with silly songs to get the kids energized and they finish with a story that connects with the theme of the week. 

These Facebook live streams have garnered more than 60,000 views combined since first starting three weeks ago. Even families outside of Lightbridge Academy stop by to watch the live streams with their kids. 

“Facebook is really our lifeline during this time to stay connected with our families that we’ve built these relationships with,” said Sanya Parkash, director of the Lightbridge Academy in Edison. 

It’s hard not to see why: The videos are engaging and fun, filled with so much positivity that it makes you forget the grim reality of the world right now. I had a smile on the whole time I was watching them, especially once you scroll down to the comments. 

“I know there’s a lot of people relying on me, but at the same time, I rely on those comments. I live for those comments every morning now,” Romanoff said. 

On a smaller scale, we have Hidden Grounds Coffee, a recognizable name to Rutgers students everywhere. It’s not just coffee (every college student’s elixir), but good coffee. It’s handmade at every level, with the utmost of care poured into every mug. 

Just like every local business right now, it's struggling. It's had a 90 percent hit on its sales and had to reduce 70 percent of its staff. Two of its 5 locations are closed indefinitely, with three remaining open for delivery and takeout: the espresso bar in New Brunswick, the Jersey City location and the Hoboken location.  

“People are used to getting delivery for meals, for lunches and dinners and things like that, not necessarily for coffee per se,” said Anand Patel, co-founder of Hidden Grounds Coffee. 

On its website, you can buy its coffee grounds to make your own coffee at home, get the monthly subscription or buy its merchandise. 

Hidden Grounds Coffee is also helping the community, as well. People can sponsor a coffee/food donation to medical staff to the New Brunswick emergency medical technician, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and Saint Peter’s University Hospital. Last year, during the government shutdown, Patel alongside business partner Spoorthi Kumar offered and delivered free coffee to federal and state employees impacted. 

“In every kind of situation we’ve always thought about how we can contribute to the people who are essential,” Patel said. “How can we help the people who are putting their lives in danger to help other people.”

Now, more than ever, we should help support everyone in our community if we’re financially able. Local businesses like Hidden Grounds Coffee aren’t big company conglomerates. They’re part of the community — our community. 

“The one thing that we have learned is just how much of a loyal customer base that we had built and how generous really the people are in their willingness to support,” Patel said. 

So during this quarantine, I would highly recommend sitting down to watch some of Lightbridge Academy’s videos (even if you don’t have children) with your Hidden Grounds coffee. You’d be helping your community while treating yourself with some self-care. 

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