The Turlock community has come together through multiple means in order to support one another during the coronavirus pandemic, the latest of which is a new Facebook page connecting people by the thousands to local restaurants who need support now more than ever.

California and states throughout the country are under strict shelter-in-place orders in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19 — measures that have also prohibited restaurants from serving customers inside of their establishments, instead requiring the businesses to offer curbside pickup or delivery of meals. While some eateries have closed altogether, many have opted to completely modify their businesses into a “to go” operation, switching to smaller menus, offering family-sized meals, featuring daily specials and providing other creative meal ideas, like take-and-make pizzas or cookie decorating packages.

When she thought of the idea for a Facebook page, Turlock resident Kadi Ingram-Porter was having trouble keeping up with customer needs as a sales representative in the wine and spirits industry. Restaurants were no longer just trying to survive a week or two — they now had to find a way to make ends meet for as long as the shelter in place order lasts, which could be through the end of May. As for consumers, Ingram-Porter noticed people were tired of cooking and began posting their “to go” meals on social media. Soon enough, the Turlock To Go Facebook group was born.

Shawna Silveira made sure to snap a picture of her to go order from Dust Bowl before she dug in, and promptly uploaded it to the Turlock To Go Facebook page.

“With Facebook algorithms, it was difficult to see what posts were current and I kept thinking how nice it would be to have one place with all of the information. I decided to create Turlock To Go to be the place. I wanted it to be a place where restaurants could post their hours, menus and specials and a place where the community could go for all of this information,” Ingram-Porter said. “It is important to me that this page is for all to go services in Turlock (and nearby surrounding areas) and supports the community as a whole. It is my first priority that it is a positive page.”

Since the Facebook group was created on March 24, it has amassed over 5,000 members — a majority of whom utilize the virtual space to post photos from restaurants that are open, share special deals with each other and discover new places to dine that they didn’t know of before.

Many members of the group have even made an effort to eat out even more than they did prior to the pandemic, trying help in whatever way they can. Others are ordering takeout to avoid going to the grocery store, where inventory can be low and social distancing is difficult. The page serves as a way for them to quickly and accurately find what restaurants are still open thanks to often-updated lists and a feed full of meals pictured in real time.

“My routine was the same until I was added to this group. I intended on cooking at home more, but have eaten out a little more often to support these small businesses,” Brianna Perez said. “I’ve learned of so many small businesses that I wouldn’t have otherwise heard of, so I try a few times to order to go from new places to support these businesses! I also love it because people post photos, which entices me to go try a new place.”

Some members haven’t changed how often they order from a restaurant, but instead are now more mindful of choosing locally-owned businesses thanks to the group.

“We would eat out (before), but now it’s not just eating out. It’s helping support local businesses that we have grown to love, so that they will still be there when all of this is over,” Frances Vinlove said.

For others, Turlock To Go has offered a sense of escape.

“We feel it puts money back into the local businesses, but really it gives us a sense of normalcy. We look forward to getting in the car and making that drive around our town we love so much,” Sandra Avila said. “This group is a great source of info of restaurants we would have never known about. It really is the highlight of our week.”

Even those who may not be as tech-savvy have found ways to promote their favorite local businesses without social media, like Carlos Molina, who stood outside of the Manna Korean Cuisine restaurant with a sign after discovering he had been their only customer all week.

Then there are those who prefer to cook at home, who still follow the page to learn about new places but are weary of consuming food prepared by someone other than themselves.

“I personally am not eating out. I love that everyone is supporting our local businesses, but it just doesn’t make sense for me to risk cross contamination. These are essential workers, which mean they have contact daily with others, money, etc. I’m trying to limit contact with other people outside my family every possible chance,” Jennifer McVeigh said. “However, this page has made my cravings for something other than home-cooked meals terrible…can’t wait for this shelter in place to be over to go indulge while supporting our local restaurants.”

While there is currently no evidence of food being associated with COVID-19 transmission according to the Center for Disease Control, there is always the possibility that the virus could be ingested through inadequate hand washing on the restaurant’s end. Restaurants have long been required to follow food safety rules, though, in addition to extra measures now put in place due to COVID-19. Those who choose to order from restaurants during the pandemic should follow CDC guidelines of maintaining spatial distance when picking up their food, whether curbside or at their front door.

No matter how Turlockers choose to support their favorite eateries or grocery stores, for those who eat at home, there’s one thing they have in common, Ingram-Porter said: their love of food.

“Food is one of the few things we have left during a time when we can no longer engage in so many of our usual activities. Food has always brought people together, even now, when we can’t really be together,” Ingram-Porter said.

Thanks to the Turlock To Go group’s success, she’s also started pages for Modesto and Oakdale. She hopes that the pages can help business owners increase their takeout orders and stay afloat during the crisis, as well as learn from each other and cheer each other on.

Michelle Peterson of Dust Bowl Brewing Company offered a heartfelt “thank you” to Ingram-Porter for creating the Facebook group.

“What a wonderful reflection on our caring community!” Peterson said. “It’s a platform that’s not only informative, it’s bringing families and businesses together in a very personal, authentic way.”

Ingram-Porter encouraged those looking to give back in a simple, yet meaningful way to join Turlock To Go.

“It is a bright spot and a distraction from the stress of all that is going on around us,” she said.