The Voice of the Gem City

November 25, 2020

This is Marcia Lane, your roving reporter.

The bird is bought and so are the greens, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pies as people ready for Thanksgiving 2020. The national holiday may be a bit subdued this year due to coronavirus but lots of people are ready to be grateful for all they have. Don’t forget free meals and community dinners are going on Thursday. Schools in Putnam, St. Johns and Flagler are closed today through Friday. Government offices in most areas are closed Thursday and Friday for the national holiday. Also closed will be Florida Department of Health coronavirus testing sites.

Palatka merchants are urging people to take part in the Shop Small on St. Johns Holiday Stroll this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. All day live entertainment is scheduled and food and beverages will be available. While St. Johns Avenue is downtown Palatka’s main business street, businesses on side streets are also taking part in the promotion. Among nearly 30 businesses taking part will be Azalea City Brewery, a craft beer operation holding its grand opening on Thanksgiving in the one-time Coca-Cola bottling plant at 120 South Seventh St. Also opening the Golden Pineapple Salon at 220 St. Johns Avenue. Also open throughout the weekend will be the Palatka Art League’s Holiday House at 324 River Street. Two floors all of hand-crafted items by local artisans will be for sale.

Normally Palatka turns out for the annual Christmas Parade on the Friday after Thanksgiving but coronavirus concerns mean the parade which usually has about 2,000 participants won’t take place this year.

While the state of Florida’s tourism revenue as a whole is taking a pounding due to coronavirus, Flagler County has some positive news — tourism-tax revenue has gone up each month between July and September. In fact they’re higher than last year, according to tourism officials. Day trips, beaches and vacations rentals are among boosts, say officials. Flagler County’s Tourism Office also has helped itself with its website. The office last week won the eTourism Summit Excellence Award for its website www.visitflagler.com. The award was for the best website on a small budget, according to Flagler Tourism Director Amy Lukasik who credited marketing media manager Candi Breckenridge for her efforts.

In St. Augustine tourism is also getting a boost with people book for the holidays. The city’s Nights of Lights continues to be a huge draw despite coronavirus. Officials speculate visitors are anxious to get outside and enjoy the bright lights. Many are coming from states that have been enduring extended quarantines. Also still on this Thanksgiving the Shut Up and Run run hosted by the Ancient City Roadrunners. It will benefit St. Francis House and runners leave out of Treaty Park at 8 a.m. for the 5K jaunt.

A 50-year-old Palm Coast man is facing felony charges of raping a child entrusted to him. Charles G. Swindell was transferred Monday from the Putnam County jail to Flagler County jail. His arraignment is set for Nov. 30 before Circuit Court Judge Terrence Perkins. Swindell has a history of violence including felony and misdemeanor convictions beginning in 2013 when he threatened to kill his mother. He got one day in jail for that conviction. His latest charges could mean up to life in prison.

A multiple vehicle crash Tuesday afternoon closed all southbound lanes on U.S. 1 North at Lewis Speedway  Tuesday. Lifeflight was called in. Florida Highway Patrol is investigating.

Florida Department of Health in Putnam County reported 11 new coronavirus cases Tuesday bringing the total number of cases confirmed since March to 2,663. In Flagler County 25 cases were reported, bringing the total to 2,605. In St. Johns County 121 cases were reported Tuesday bringing the total number of coronavirus cases to 8,205.

Pedro Melendez High School football fans were looking forward to Friday and a playoff game in Dunnellon. Instead their season has ended on the sidelines after school officials decided to forfeit the Region 2-5A semifinal due to coronavirus concerns. The Menendez Falcons are the first area football team to forfeit a playoff game due to the virus. Dunnellon’s next opponent will depend on the outcome of Friday’s game between Clay County and Ocala Vanguard.

WIYD cohost George DeLoach is among those who have been fighting coronavirus. He’s now at Baptist South in Jacksonville after being diagnosed with double pneumonia. Our prayers are with him.

While Thursday’s focus is on the Pilgrims and that first Thanksgiving dinner in 1621 in Plymouth, Mass., Florida historians are reminding people America’s REAL First Thanksgiving  happened in 1565 when Pedro Menendez landed in St. Augustine and claimed La Florida for the Spanish king. He and his company celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving and then sat down with the native Indians to share a meal. The late historian Michael Gannon spent 60 years informing people of the real beginnings of Thanksgiving.

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