Niles couple plans for socially-distanced Thanksgiving

BERRIEN COUNTY — Thanksgiving celebrations will look different this year for many across the U.S. heeding COVID-19 precautions and mandates from public health officials across the country.

In Niles, married couple Justin Flagel and Kristin Bivens will be two of those people adjusting their plans for a distanced holiday.

“It’s unfortunately not the right time to be gathering at this time,” Bivens said. “We have kept our distance during the whole pandemic, but having Thanksgiving be more of an indoor thing, we don’t think it’s worth risking our health or our family’s health for two hours of eating around a table.”

For Flagel and Bivens, there are a host of Thanksgiving activities they are altering this year due to the COVID-19 precautions they are taking. During a typical year, the couple splits their day between their two families in the area. This year, the festivities are pared down and intentionally distanced.

Flagel usually participates in the YMCA of Greater Michiana’s Thanksgiving Day Run. He generally runs with his past coworkers and friends from the Niles RadioShack store. This year, the Thanksgiving Day Run has been canceled as a large event, but may be participated in virtually.

“The group I would normally be running with, we are putting together our own course,” Flagel said. “We are going to meet up and be distanced, and will start off the day with a 10K race. We’re going to enjoy that part of the tradition the best we can.”

He will miss the event organizers recognizing the team as they cross the finish line, but sees it as a necessity to shift this year.

Bivens said Flagel and she have ordered some food and snacks from local businesses to enjoy throughout the day.

“We ordered a charcuterie board from Iron Shoe Distillery, and then we are going to pick up food from [Flagel’s] mom,” Bivens said, in addition to snacks and drinks form The Brass Eye.

“We are trying to support local businesses that way,” Flagel said.

Flagel and Bivens will be stopping by the outside of his grandmother’s home to wave from the outside, and will pick up a care package of food from his mother to add to their meals.

“[My grandmother] is certainly who we are concerned about,” Flagel said. “She is staying home, and we are going to give her a gift on the porch.”

Bivens and Flagel came to the decision for a distanced Thanksgiving before the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services put the “pause to save live” order in place.

“We were feeling pretty unsure about [gathering],” Bivens said. “I think we’ve probably had this planned for a month or so.”

The Berrien County Health Department released a statement with 10 community partners on Nov. 19 regarding the Thanksgiving holiday.

“As we head into this holiday season, we must remain committed to reducing the spread of COVID-19 however we can,” the statement said. “Health officials encourage reconsidering plans for gathering with more than two households. COVID-19 will not take a break for the season, and neither can we. We all have a shared responsibility to wear masks, maintain social distance, and sanitize hands and surfaces.”

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