Employer Welcomes Back 14 Workers With Surprise $1,000 Bonuses – to Spend on Local Businesses

When New Zealanders were given the all-clear and Kiwis began returning to work after the Covid-19 lockdown, some employees were nervous about the state of businesses.

Jenny Beck, an attorney who runs a law office in Dunedin, had heard many small businesses were in dire straits because they depended on tourism—and she got an idea.

At the first staff meeting with everyone back from lockdown, “the mood was anxious,” according to the Otago Daily Times, New Zealand’s oldest daily newspaper.

But, instead of pink slips or salary cuts, the law firm owner gave each of her 14 employees $1000 in cash.

“I told them, and just about everyone cried—and I felt like crying myself,” she told reporter John Lewis.

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The shocked workers were also given a caveat regarding what they could do with the money—paying it forward.

Jenny gave them “stern words” to spend the cash on small businesses, suggesting they take a long weekend, paying for accommodation, food at local restaurants, and tourist attractions, to help get the local economies rolling again.

‘‘I also thought it would be fun, in that my staff would be able to report back on their breaks, and give everyone a boost.’’

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The office really got into the spirit, and began planning trips to a National Park, their favorite restaurants, and kayak rental places.

‘‘I’m really pleased that they’ve picked it up and run with it,” said Jenny. “It’s given a real boost to team morale.’’

WATCH the interviews below… (Video screen grab courtesy of Otago Daily Times)

Need more positive stories and updates coming out of the COVID-19 challenge? For more uplifting coverage, click here.

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Lithuania Allows Restaurant Seating to Expand Into Streets and Plazas to Safely Reopen its Vibrant Old Town Cafes

The Lithuanian capital of Vilnius is supporting its vibrant café and restaurant culture through the coronavirus pandemic by designating all public spaces as open air cafés, allowing restaurants to stay open and serve customers while observing physical distancing guidelines.

With just over 1,000 cases and 44 deaths from COVID-19, the Baltic nation is staging a tiered exit from its lockdown by allowing restaurants with outdoor seating, hair salons, and most small retail stores to reopen.

Social distancing is still in full effect, but that’s no problem for the intrepid restauranteurs, baristas, and bar owners in Vilnius’ old town of Senamiestis, because they can place their tables as far apart as they care to do, utilizing the narrow streets and small plazas.

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“Plazas, squares, streets… Nearby cafes will be allowed to set up outdoor tables free of charge this season and thus conduct their activities during quarantine,” said Remigijus Šimašius, the mayor of this charming town, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

According to The Guardian, over 160 restaurant, café, and bar owners have signed up for the program that has opened 18 spacious public areas for outdoor seating, promising to add more spaces to the list as the summer progresses and the exit from the lockdown continues.

“It came just in time,” Evalda Šiškauskienė of the Lithuanian Association of Hotels and Restaurants told The Guardian, who added that it would help “accommodate more visitors and bring life back to the city streets, but without violating security requirements.”

Vilnius by Victor Malyushev

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Another ray of good news sunshine in Vilnius came when public health workers were recently rewarded with food and drink vouchers for city restaurants (€400,000 in total) as a gesture of gratitude for their hard work and public service in the face of COVID-19.

This is just one of many positive stories and updates that are coming out of the COVID-19 news coverage this week. For more uplifting coverage on the outbreaks, click here.

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Swedish Oat Milk Pioneers Offer a Successful Win-Win Path to Struggling U.S Dairy Farmers

Self-proclaimed as the manufacturer of the world’s only true 100% environmentally-friendly dairy-free yogurt, Hälsa Foods is sharing their secret of success with struggling American dairy farmers.

Scandinavians Helena Lumme and Mika Manninen, the co-founders of Hälsa—which is Swedish for health—use oats to make their ‘oatgurt’ and milk drink substitutes.

Research has shown that oats crops are far more sustainable than the production of coconut, almond, or rice milk which create a more negative impact on both the ecosystems and the workers.

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“We are currently importing our organic oats from Scandinavia because we cannot find the quality that meets our standard in the United States,” Lumme and Manninen explain.  “At the same time, U.S. dairy farms are struggling due to slumping milk sales. So we thought, why not come up with a solution that benefits both of us—and our planet?”

Hälsa, which is headquartered in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, did just that by advancing their oat outreach with a structured program to help small U.S. dairy farms—stung by recent trade wars—to stay in business by converting their pasturage to oat crops.

A dairy farming business in the New York town of Hoosick was the first to jump onboard with Hälsa’s conversion process. The farm, with 200 dairy cows, consists of 300 acres of certified-organic land overlooking the Vermont border.

Helena Lumme and Mika Manninen

“We’re excited to get started,” said Eric and Jamie Ziehm, co-owners of the High Meadows of Hoosick farm. “Our goal is to build a biodiverse and biodynamic ecosystem that has the ability to regenerate its resources. We hope this will have a positive impact and also inspire our fellow farmers who are facing many challenges today.”

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Hälsa is not the only business with Scandinavian roots now catering to America’s exploding desire for oats as a dairy substitute. Swedish manufacturers Oatly opened a $15 million production facility for their oat beverage in New Jersey, and their products are now available in 7,000 stores nationwide.

But, Bloomberg Business News reports there is plenty of demand, with sales up nearly 700% since 2017—from $4.4 million a year to $29 million.

Hälsa sources their ingredients with organic, non-GMO oats that haven’t been exposed to any glyphosate-containing pesticides. Their products contain no artificial ingredients and are sold throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states at ShopRite, Fairway Market, Fresh Direct, all NYC airports, and at select New York metro area stores.

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German Supermarket Saves Over 2,000 Tons of Food By Reselling Items Other Stores Won’t

A Berlin supermarket is tackling the challenge of reducing food waste by reselling all of the unattractive products that other grocery stores refuse to carry.

Sirplus Rettermarkt in Berlin Steglitz. Photo by Sirplus.

The SirPlus grocery store stocks their shelves with foodstuffs and produce that is expired, near to expired, misshapen, or just a bit odd, and offers it to shoppers for up to 80% less than the regular supermarket prices.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 1.3 billion tons of food are thrown out or wasted every year across the world. This amounts to one third of all food produced worldwide, at the same time as trash landfills are filling rapidly.

The majority of the global waste comes from Europe and North America, with the average European wasting 210 to 254 pounds (95 to 115 kilograms) of food every year.

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Some of the food rejected by other supermarkets, restaurants, or wholesalers—which SirPlus quality assurance specialist Timo Schmitt and his team inspect every day—is discarded because of something as little as a cucumber that has grown at a 90-degree angle, or a jar of jam that is mislabeled.

Others, like items past their expiry date, are carefully inspected to ensure that it is safe to eat. “We check smell, taste, consistency and packaging,” Schmitt told Klaus Sieg, a Hamburg journalist. “If in doubt, we call in a laboratory.”

As long as food has been deemed safe to eat and the customer understands the risks inherent in what they are purchasing, expired biscuits or even castaway yogurt and meat is legal to sell under German law.

Sirplus founders Martin Scott and Raphael Fellmer.

“Suppliers such as farmers, […] wholesalers [and] retailers have a strong economic incentive to partner with us,” explain the founders of SirPlus in an interview in 2017. “When buying or trading their surplus via our marketplace […] we’re saving them significant disposal costs, while providing a new revenue source”.

France passed a law four years ago that supermarkets must not throw away food that has reached its sell-by date. This could mean donating to food banks, composting it, or recycling it for use in pet food or biofuel—but all of the above require larger operational expenses than simply selling it.

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Fellmer and Schott allow producers and distributors to save storage and disposal costs by selling or donating their food to SirPlus, which if their own storage space can’t accommodate, will be offered for free to NGOs.

In 2019, SirPlus saved 2000 tons of food (4.4 million pounds). The company also has bold plans for 2020 and wants to continue opening stores in Berlin while expanding into other cities, to launch their own product line with the SirPlus label made specifically from food that’s been rescued, and create an online platform that allows for home grocery delivery—all to distribute the increasingly larger amounts of donated food coming SirPlus’ way, which includes one million croissants last year.

Sirplus produce.

They also have a subscription service called the “Retterbox” (Rescue Box) containing a random assortment of quality-controlled products that have been saved from the dumpster and delivered to your house on a monthly basis with free shipping throughout Germany.

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