By Emily Glory Peters

Just as historic crises like 9/11 and the Great Depression permanently shifted our world, the advent of COVID-19 has already ushered in a new normal. In response to these changes, residents across the San Gabriel Valley are reimagining what it will take to keep their livelihoods afloat—but some are dreaming (and doing) bigger.

“The way you get through disasters is through helping others,” says Mike Comer, CEO of Wound Care Advantage and longtime resident of Sierra Madre. Along with his sons and friends and fellow residents Rob Stockley and Tom Denison, Comer launched the website Sierra Madre Thrives as a community resource to bring the town together during a frightening and frustrating time.

Currently, the site covers three areas: a listing of neighborhood businesses still in operation (owners merely need to supply a logo, description, and any specials they’re running to be included), local food specials and resources, and volunteer opportunities to support Sierra Madre’s most vulnerable community members. “The idea is not just that the town survives during this time, but that it thrives,” Comer shares. 

Sierra Madre Thrives and Poppy Cake Bakery crew serving meals at Quarantine Canteen
Joining forces with local restaurants like Poppy Cake Bakery, Sierra Madre Thrives’ “Quarantine Canteen” offers a drive-through meal distribution service in town every Wednesday. – Photo by Emily Glory Peters / Beacon Media News

Since Sierra Madre Thrives debuted online in March, more than 75 volunteers have signed up to help. With a motto of “no committees, no agendas, no long meetings, just action,” Comer and his crew have joined forces with local restaurants to establish the city’s first “Quarantine Canteen,” a drive-through meal distribution event held every Wednesday at a different restaurant in town. Meals are free or pay-what-you-can, and a suggested donation of $10 can be made at the event’s GoFundMe page. The first canteen on April 1, hosted by Poppy Cake Baking Company owners Brittainy and Matt Turnquist, distributed more than 230 meals in just a few hours—with more donations to sponsor meals coming in each day.

With California’s shelter-in-place restrictions extended through April 2020, Comer anticipates more volunteers will be needed not just for the canteen, but for everything from running errands for seniors and the immunocompromised to providing financial consulting services for the many small businesses in town attempting to navigate the new business loan opportunities. This is a long battle, he shares—but one that can absolutely be won if neighbors continue to support each other.

“There are so many people facing hardships, but we want people to get comfort in knowing there are people in town thinking about the long haul. We do have a plan,” he says. And no matter the final outcome of the pandemic, Comer remains confident in the town’s ability to find strength and encouragement in one another—just as it always has done. 

“Sierra Madre is an amazing village and a very special place,” he says. “People here truly care about each other.”

To learn more about Sierra Madre Thrives, contact Mike Comer at www.sierramadrethrives.com | info@sierramadrethrives.com. If you’re able, please consider signing up to volunteer or donating to support the next Quarantine Canteen event.

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