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On the borders of Kendall and DeKalb counties lies the quaint town of Sandwich, Illinois, a town of approximately 7,300 residents founded in 1855. Sandwich is known as a quiet town lined with restaurants, antique shops, and gaming parlors for most of the year except for one week in September. The Sandwich Fair is a five-day event on 185 acres of fairground that brings in tens of thousands of people and revenue along with it. The COVID-19 pandemic halted the fair for the first time in its 132 year history. Like every town in America, Sandwich closed up its businesses and schools in the early stages of the pandemic in accordance with state protocols. In Sandwich, small businesses reign supreme, and through their customer’s patronage, government loans, and some creativity, those businesses prevailed. Sandwich represents a small American town where members of the community pulled together to navigate the uncertain time of COVID-19. Today, locals say life feels close to normal, save for some social distancing and mask requirements in various parts of town. These series of images show how the people of Sandwich work, play, and worship in ways they never have before as they navigate the “new normal.”
Community members gather in Sandwich City Hall to listen in on a city counsel meeting on June 7, 2021. Discussions included in the mayor’s report was the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. Mayor Todd Latham said it remains to be seen how the absence of the Sandwich Fair, the city’s largest yearly attraction, had impacted the total revenue of the city in 2020.
Madison Eads, a server at Bull Moose Bar & Grille in Sandwich, Ill., brings food to a table on June 8, 2021. To economically survive periods of government-mandated shutdowns, Bull Moose added curbside pick-up and outdoor dining options to their experience, something the ten-year-old restaurant had not previously offered. Eads said she has worked at the restaurant for three years and was serving before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. “It’s been weird because when I first started working here it was busy all the time, and then when we closed, some of us were only working twice a week,” Eads said. “It’s just been a really long time and I’m excited to see it start getting busier and back to normal.”
Doug Kreinbrink, 14, receives his second does of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic hosted by the DeKalb County Health Department at Sandwich High School on June 9, 2021. On May 12, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved expanded eligibility of the Pfizer vaccine to youth aged 12 through 15. As of June 9, 2021, 37.94% of DeKalb county’s 759,297 residents has been fully vaccinated according to the DeKalb County Health Department website.
Ronda Scherer, a parishioner of Saint Paul the Apostle Church sanitizes church pews after a service on June 6, 2021 in Sandwich, Ill. It was the church’s third week at “full” capacity after only 25% of the sanctuary could be filled. The church encouraged vaccinated members to be seated in the front of the church unmasked, while unvaccinated members socially distance through roped-off pews in the back with masks on. “Despite a difficult year, we have been able to move forward,” said the Rev. Bernie Sehr, pastor of the church. “This is the fullest I’ve seen the church in over a year.”
A couple takes in the music from local band “Outpatience” during the City of Sandwich’s “Music in the Park” summer series downtown Sandwich, Ill. on June 9, 2021. City alderwoman and organizer of the concert series Rebecca Johnson said that the summer series has been one constant during the COVID-19 shutdown. Johnson said the fact that it is an outside venue lets people comfortably take in the music with as much distance between audience members as one likes.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t feel safe like some of the people do,” said Zulcufli Zulbeari, owner of Gene’s Chicken & Pizza & Seafood in Sandwich, Ill. With chairs stacked high and dining lights dimmed, Gene’s is one of the last businesses in town doing carry-out orders only. Zulbeari said he is waiting until August to resume in-person dining so he can hire more workers and feel more comfortable operating in the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite losing about 75% of business in 2020, Zulbeari said his 40-year-old restaurant stayed afloat through loyal customers. “People support businesses that are in town, they are very nice,” Zulbeari said. “You can’t find anything better than the customers we have here in Sandwich.”
Beckham Lopez, 4, is offered a high-five after crossing home plate during a tee-ball game at Milestone Park in Sandwich, Ill., on June 8, 2021. Lopez wore a lanyard fastened with a cloth mask for easy access which he wore and removed throughout the game. “[COVID-19] has always been his norm, because at two [years old], he didn’t know better,” said Lopez’s grandmother Vinetta Hobbs. “Now with people not wearing the masks, it’s created confusion, like ‘should I wear my mask? Should I not?’ Because it’s all he’s known.”