Michiana United: Positives amid the pandemic

ST JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind.-- In a year without so much, with space and circumstance between us--Michiana stayed strong through it all.

Coming together to make sure no one was ever truly alone.

2020 calendars went from fully stocked with exciting adventures and celebrations, trips, and vacations to a complete clean slate.

Virtually empty with just the swab of a nose.

But even a worldwide pandemic didn't keep Michiana down for long!

Those birthdays? Graduations?

Big and small, the important life moments were all celebrated.

Even if things looked a little different.

“All I knew my mother in law said honey there is going to be a surprise. And just take it all in," says newlywed Mila Ledesma.

Michiana met this engaged couple back in July during their surprise drive by wedding shower held by family and friends.

“I was like okay what's happening. Then the cars started driving by and the posters that they made for us. It was just so much love poured onto me and us," said Mila. 

Since then, the couple exchanged vows and Mila gained a new last name in their long awaited socially distanced ceremony on September 20th, 2020.

“We got married at the Baker loft in Holland, Michigan. And it was during the time when the governor placed restrictions on us," said newly wed and now husband, Christian Ledesma.

Restrictions affecting the catering, flowers, venue, and the guest list.

A wedding--with 400 family and friends trimmed to 100 after they had to cut down their loved ones who could attend.

“Due to COVID we are going to have to scale back the guest list. It was a terrible experience because how do you weed out your family, your friends, people you’ve grown up with. How do you rank these people, how do you pick?!" says the couple.

Even with the difficult decisions and heart ace along the way--Mila and Christian say they have learned a lot about love--for each other, their family's and the community.

“How to value a community. Because the community really pulled together for this. From our bakers, our photographers, to the wedding venue itself. Made it so we felt the love," said Christian.

Michiana now home for these Orlando natives. But also a home for those with already deep roots.

“We wanted to help people because we know it is sometimes hard to buy things during the pandemic. Sometimes people need extra help getting food and shelter," says dedicated volunteer for the Redbud Area Ministry food pantry, Kate Holloway.

Kate Holloway and Eloise Herrick have celebrated another birthday since we met these Buchanan natives last July when they collected items for the local food pantry.

"We got $400 worth of money. And 1,006 items of food," said volunteer, Eloise Herrick.

But their passion for collecting donation for the Redbud Area Ministry food pantry has only grown.

“We know it’s sometimes hard to buy things during a pandemic and sometimes people need extra help with getting food and shelter. It just feels really good when you get to help people and help them survive," says Holloway.

The duo came together again this January for an impromptu drive.

“We did a last minute get together for Eloise’s birthday in January. And Kate gave her money. And about a week later I asked her what she wanted to buy" said Eloise's mother, Mimi Herrick.

“I used it to buy stuff for RAM and then held a mini food drive," said Eloise.

The girls used birthday money, donations, and gathered 300 some foot items for RAM and they can't wait to do more.

“It’s the girls driving this, it’s not Heidi and I. First off, they can’t wait to start working again in the summer when they are out of school but they are already talking about when are they going to hold their next fundraiser this summer. And can they do it again!” says Herrick.

That helping bug is making it's way all around Michiana.

“There were two things kind of on my heart to help the community. The first one was the Heroes work Here campaign. Where we went to fire stations, hospitals, Memorial, nursing homes. We wanted to celebrate them and let them know we were here for them," says Jenn Nyikos owner of Fun By the Yard.

The campaign blew up and brought so much joy to not only the first responders but also to Nyikos.

She recently started the "Adopt a Grandparent" campaign where you can donate money for a nursing home or elderly person in the community. 

“And we would make these huggable balloons and deliver them to all the nursing homes. And they went crazy and they hugged them and made names for them and traded them and it brought a light that had been missing," says Nyikos.

A light Nyikos refuses to let dim anytime soon.

“This April we are going to do another program called Bubbles for Hope type of thing where we are going to decorate different areas with big balloon displays so we can spread some joy to you around Easter time," says Nyikos.

These business' and people surviving and thriving with help from neighbors, schoolmates, friends and a community stepping up to do more for each other!

“I think I’ve just gotten more connected to the community, a community I didn’t necessarily know was there? Before it was business and how can we promote our bottom line? And then it turned into how can I help the community?” says Nyikos.

In a year where lives and opportunities were lost--this community gained so much!

“So many people donated money and food. And when we got all that money we were able to donate more too. And it was really nice to have the community help us," says Holloway.

“This was Mila’s first time experiencing what a small town, small city can really bring to the table. Just to have that abundance of love come out, it just makes us more willing to stay in this area," says Christian.

We may not be singing as much--but the song never stopped.

We might not see each other as often, but technology bridged the gap.

We may not have hugged, but love?

It was never lost or forgotten.

It only got stronger because of the community who found home in each other.

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