At west Charlotte daycare, an urge to help

Plus: County provides first hospitalization number in 11 days; Drive-up church services OK'd; Walmart adds beer delivery; Realtors seek permission to show homes

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A daycare center owner rallies support for her families: ‘I couldn’t just close the door and walk away.’

Gloria Dukes (right) hands a “safety packet” of hand-sanitizer and face masks to families in her west Charlotte daycare. With her daycare closed, Dukes and her staff have been inviting families to drive through the parking lot about every two weeks to pick up meals and learning materials.

By Cristina Bolling

Lauretta Covington blew kisses through car windows to her 2-year-old students in the parking lot of Bright Future Learning Center on a recent afternoon, their tiny hands reaching up to eagerly wave hello and goodbye.

“E-T-H-A-N, remember?” Covington recited to one little boy, Ethan, who giggled and grinned from his car seat.

Ethan’s mom wasn’t as smiley. She’d just had a new baby and was struggling with the demands of young kids and a household upended by the coronavirus.

“Imagine yourself on an island,” Covington said soothingly.

“It’s been overwhelming,” the mom confided.

“I know, but you can do it. My phone is always on. I even sleep right beside it,” Covington assured her. “So you just call me, and you say, ‘Girl, what’s up? I need an outlet.’”

The mom drove off. Covington, who’s worked at the daycare for nearly 17 years, fought back tears.

“This place is like home,” she said.

Gloria Dukes has been owner and director of Bright Future Learning Center for almost 27 years, and she has cared for two generations of families during their most tender years.

Around 90% of the children enrolled in her daycare off Wilkinson Boulevard in west Charlotte fall below the poverty line. So when Dukes had to close her doors quickly in mid-March, she worried about the 160 children and 100 families she serves.

Many parents were suddenly out of work, and their kids wouldn’t have the breakfast, lunch and snack that the daycare provided. Other parents had jobs deemed essential, but suddenly no one to watch their children.

Dukes and west Charlotte non-profit Freedom Communities sprang into action. Freedom Communities created a GoFundMe that resulted in $50 for every family. Dukes had to lay off her employees so they could collect unemployment, but she gave them 60% of their salaries two weeks later.

The daycare has been hosting regular drive-by events, where families can pick up meal staples from Second Harvest Food Bank, fresh family-sized meals from Brown Bag Catering courtesy of Freedom Communities, and workbooks and other goodies to keep kids’ brains growing.

The coronavirus has been devastating for families and communities across Charlotte, but it’s also been a very visible reminder of the good that can happen: People pitch in. Groups pull together. Helpers show up.

“I’ve been doing this nearly 27 years, so they’re my family, too,” Dukes said as she handed out Brown Bag meals and invited families to pick up loaves of bread, fresh tomatoes, containers of juice and boxes of doughnuts.

“I couldn’t just close the door and walk away.”

An effort to reopen: Daycares are deemed essential businesses, so Dukes reopened for about a week during the first week of April. But only seven of her 30-member staff said they felt comfortable coming to work.

Dukes and her staff scrubbed the building “from top to bottom” and took children’s temperatures as they entered each morning. Only about 15 children were showing up each morning, so after a week, Dukes decided it made more sense to stay closed.

“It was such a risk for us,” she said, “and people were scared.”

Most families in Dukes’ daycare receive federal childcare subsidies, she said. Bright Future also houses several classes of government-sponsored pre-K programs, so those teachers are teaching students remotely and continuing to drawing their salaries.

Little extras: Dukes’ two sisters have been helping by sewing nearly 100 cloth masks for daycare parents. Dukes bought hand sanitizer from Salisbury distillery Southern Distilling Co., which recently switched from making spirits to making hand sanitizer, and she packaged it in small bottles for each of her families.  

She printed “Keep Calm, We Will Rise Again” decals for white paper bags and filled them with the masks and hand sanitizers. “They’re safety packets,” she said. “We just want families to be safe.”

Grateful families: Mom of three Tiffany Hancock couldn’t hug Dukes, so she gave her an elbow tap last week as she picked up a Brown Bag meal along with the hand sanitizer and face masks.

Hancock lost her job as a cashier at a home décor store in Pineville that had to close because of Covid-19, and is still waiting on unemployment. Her fiancé is in food service, an employment sector deemed essential, so he’s hung onto his job.

“We’re making it,” Hancock said.

Dukes said she worries about the families she doesn’t see.

One mom was forced to move to Gaston County recently for cheaper rent, so Dukes and her husband delivered her meals to her home.

“A lot of people don’t like to share their pain, but you can see it,” she said. “Some people are a little leery about telling you about their pain, … but helping them is my goal.”

Reach managing editor Cristina Bolling at

Mecklenburg officials finally release hospitalization numbers; curve continues to flatten

After 11 days with no update on the number of people hospitalized in Mecklenburg County with Covid-19, county officials finally released an update Friday: The figure is 91 patients.

That’s one more patient than the 90 who were hospitalized on April 13, which is the last date for which the county reported a figure.

The Ledger asked Mecklenburg County health director Gibbie Harris for the updated number during a news conference Friday. She shuffled papers at the podium and said:

I’ve got bed counts, I don’t have the specific number, but we are looking at probably around 90 individuals — 91, I think — currently hospitalized in Mecklenburg county with Covid-19.

The Ledger has been a big fan of looking at the numbers to track the progression of the virus since the pandemic arrived in Charlotte last month. And Friday, the county released a new graph that it hadn’t made public since the start of the pandemic: the number of new daily cases. Previously, if you sought that number, you had to compile it yourself on a spreadsheet.

Until now, the county’s charts and data listed only the number of cumulative cases, which is a poor indicator of how quickly the virus is spreading. The number of cumulative confirmed cases rises whether you add one case a day or 100, and releasing only that figure has prompted local media to focus on the overall number of people infected, which can sound scary but by itself tells you nothing about the growth rate of the virus.

The number of new confirmed daily cases in Mecklenburg started leveling off and falling around April 9 and has stayed mostly flat in recent days, according to this chart released Friday by the county. The Ledger first reported that “New Mecklenburg coronavirus cases fall again” (April 10) and “Mecklenburg’s new virus cases are falling” (April 14) as most others stuck with the cases-are-rising narrative.

Other headlines coming out of Friday’s county update:

  • Drive-up church services will be allowed starting this weekend in Mecklenburg County, but drive-up communion won’t be permitted.

  • County Manager Dena Diorio said she had her first meeting Friday morning with the business leaders roundtable she has convened to discuss re-opening the local economy. “They have a lot of great ideas. It’s clear that they are interested in being a part of a solution and want to guide us as we begin to talk about how we reopen the economy,” Diorio said. She said they’ll meet again next week, but the group’s meetings are closed to the public.

  • There are outbreaks in eight long-term care facilities in Mecklenburg, Harris said. She said the county is working with the facilities to ensure they have the supplies they need and the plans in place to contain the infections. —CB

Today’s supporting sponsor is Industrial Handling Solutions:

‘Un-Prom’: Charlotte Christian names Quarantine King and Queen

Tonight would have been the prom committee delivered roses to all the senior girls and candy to all the senior boys. The senior class voted and congrats to Grace Gao our Quarantine Queen and Andrew Knotts our Quarantine King! Happy Un-Prom! #ccsonlineschool #ccsclassof2020
April 24, 2020

In brief

  • Real estate restrictions: The association that represents Charlotte real estate agents is asking the county to relax restrictions on showing homes. The state’s “stay at home” order allows showings, but Mecklenburg’s prohibits it, with few exceptions. The county told The Ledger on Thursday that provisions of Mecklenburg’s order continue to apply to real estate. But there have been some unexpected side effects to banning in-person showings, according to the president of Canopy Realtor Association. “Prospective homebuyers are showing up at sellers’ homes and requesting a tour themselves, with no personal protective equipment or measures in place.” (Biz Journal, subscriber-only)

  • Small business loans to restart: The federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program is scheduled to start taking applications again on Monday, after President Trump signed a $320B extension on Friday. The original program ran out of money last week before many qualified small businesses were approved. In addition, the chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, asked Bank of America, Wells Fargo and other banks to “address whether they favored certain borrowers in processing applications.” (Politico/Wall Street Journal)

  • Good weekend read: The Raleigh News & Observer profiles N.C. Health and Human Services secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen, age 41, who is leading the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. An Ivy League-educated Obama administration official who helped fix the troubled rollout of, Cohen says she learned: “When things are uncertain, and all decisions are hard and have unintended consequences, the best you can do for folks is to try to explain your thinking.” (News & Observer)

  • Beer delivery: Walmart is adding wine and beer delivery, the company said Thursday. “If the mobile app order includes alcohol, delivery times may be limited by local law, according to the company.” (Observer)

  • Masks for airline passengers? The union that represents American Airlines’ pilots says it is lobbying Congress for “a mandate that all passengers wear face masks when traveling.” (Dallas Business Journal)

  • End of high school sports: Friday’s decision to cancel in-person classes for the rest of the school year also ends high school sports for the year. “The changes also mean the NCHSAA state basketball championships, which were postponed last month, will not be played. Five [local] teams had qualified for the finals: boys teams from North Mecklenburg, Freedom and Shelby; and girls teams from Newton-Conover and Vance.” (Observer)

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The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

Executive editorTony MeciaManaging editorCristina BollingContributing editor: Tim Whitmire; Reporting intern: David Griffith