By Alyssa Schnugg
While headlines in the last 12 months have been dominated by COVID-19 and in many cases, other bad news, there have been bright spots scattered throughout the year that have helped bring about smiles in a time when they were needed the most.
While the virus wreaked havoc, many stepped up to help ease the burden of the pandemic – from the Oxford Community Market holding a food drive for The Pantry to the Move On Up organization providing meals to struggling families to the creation of the Restaurant Worker Relief Fund by local restaurant owners to provide help to employees who lost wages.
The city of Oxford and Lafayette County, in partnership with local and state businesses and organizations, gave out thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer and masks to anyone who needed them at no charge. Outdoor dining was established around the Oxford Square once restaurants could open in August, which allowed for more space, which meant more customers.
More “good” news happened that had nothing to do with COVID-19.
At the start of 2020, students at the University of Mississippi shared their campus with some new nonhuman friends with the introduction of food delivery robots. While their function of bringing food to students living on campus and faculty members at lunchtime were appreciated, the Starship Robots seemed almost human at times as they waited on corners allowing students, and cars, to pass. Social media posts of people “helping” the robots when they got stuck popped up along with comments calling the robots “cute.”
Oxford’s two new “workforce housing” developments, spearheaded by Steward Rutledge and LOU-Home, were opened and filled up quickly with new residents moving in at the start of the year.
The developments, positioned to provide workforce housing to Oxonians, were made possible after the public-private partnership between LOU-Home and Rutledge was awarded $15 million in housing credits in competitive funding.
Those living in the townhomes will have the option of purchasing their home in 2034, with their 15 years of lease payments going toward the purchase price that will be determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A third development is currently under construction.
The long-awaited Kroger expansion was completed in May. The 50,000-square-foot expansion included expanded produce, deli and bakery departments and a new Starbucks. Construction on a new gas station area continues and last month, a new traffic light was installed on University Avenue making turning into the store easier.
On Memorial Day, dozens of local residents drove past the Oxford Veterans Home in a spontaneous vehicle parade to help show support and provide entertainment for the veterans who could not receive visitors due to the pandemic.
Despite the Oxford Film Festival being canceled due to COVID-19, organizers reinvented the popular event and held online screenings and Q&A sessions with filmmakers. OFF also brought drive-in movies back to Oxford in a partnership with Cannon Motors where the movies are shown on a large screen and broadcast on a radio station. While the drive-in movies were originally meant to be temporary, their popularity has kept the drive-in movies going throughout the year.
In July, the new Dairy Queen opened on West Jackson Avenue with long lines for the first week. Checkers announced it would be coming back to Oxford as well, although the drive-thru restaurant won’t be opened until early 2021.
With COVID-19 canceling so many events, including the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce’s annual Fourth of July Celebration, the city of Oxford stepped up and held socially-distanced fireworks that were set off being Oxford High School. Local residents were able to view the fireworks safely in their cars.
Students in the first and second grades went back to school in August at a brand new Central Elementary built next to the existing Oxford Intermediate School. Through the PTO, $75,000 was raised to build a new playground for the school. The former Oxford Elementary School now serves as the OSD administration building.
In November, what started out as an unhappy situation for an Oxford family ended on a happy note.
Enzo, a 4-year-old French Bulldog, was stolen in broad daylight from the Wendy’s in Oxford Commons. His owner Ramiro Munoz Jr. and the whole Munoz family were devastated. He called the Oxford Police Department and posted a photo of Enzo on social media.
He soon learned his dog was stolen and then sold to someone else.
However, a day later, Enzo was spotted at a house and OPD officers were able to get Enzo back into the Munozs’ loving arms.
Mario Holman, 28, of Oxford was arrested and charged with felony false pretense for stealing little Enzo.
In December, a photo of two Lafayette County Fire Department female first-responders being the county’s first all-female after-hours crew on duty caught the attention of many, including Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch and Sen. Nicole Boyd.
Fitch and Boyd visited with Alexandra Watlington, 19, and Elizabeth Byars, 39, at the Central Fire Station and thanked them for their commitment and service to the Lafayette County community.