2020 was the year of Zoom meetings so our annual staff photo reflects that. Pictured: Veronica M. Cruz , Irene McKisson, Johanna Willett, Becky Pallack, Andi Berlin, Jennifer Bond (left to right, top to bottom).

Hello. Welcome to the end of 2020. 

As is our custom here at #ThisIsTucson, we're reflecting on the stories we have written in this last year and why they have stuck with us. And what a year it has been. 

Usually, we delight in telling you about places and events where you can go mingle with your fellow Tucsonans and interact with everything this city has to offer. And we did that. For about two months. 

But for us, everything began to change the Monday the news broke that the Tucson Festival of Books had been canceled. It was the beginning of a wave of event cancellations that would continue throughout the year. We, like you, scrambled to figure out how to work from home, school children and grapple with the many uncertainties this global pandemic has produced.  

We began to write about the countless ways COVID-19 has changed our lives and how our community has responded. 

We spoke with leaders from Tucson's Black community about how to support Black-owned businesses after the death of George Floyd spurred widespread calls for action and ways to support the Black community.

And we kept a running list of resources for those impacted by the Bighorn Fire. Oh, and the election. We wrote stories about how to register to vote, when to do it and how to get your ballot in on time. 

We hope that these stories have helped you feel connected with our community, even though we can't gather in person. Thank you for your words of encouragement, your story ideas and the role you, our readers, play in the #ThisIsTucson community. Thanks for sticking with us this year. 

Irene McKisson, editor

I don't need to tell you how unprecedented/difficult/divisive/scary/flaming pile of trash 2020 has been. We all know. And that's maybe the biggest thing I take away from this year, we were all in this together. And so many people in our community pitched in and did hard work to support the people who needed help. It was inspiring to edit the stories about those efforts produced by our talented reporters.

This Is Tucson is a news organization that covers things to do, Tucson's food and restaurants and our connections to each other. So as ALL of those things shut down, one by one this spring, we had to do a hard pivot (while also covering the pivots of local businesses and organizations.)

Our pivot was to you, our readers. We stepped back and asked, "how can we help?" That question led to stories and resource lists that helped our neighbors and restaurant workers find food, get grocery delivery, get a face mask, help their kids learn at home, support local businesses and organizations, lift up the Black community, find low-cost internet and much more. We live here too, so our coverage was intensely personal.

In March, we were also in the final stages of a yearlong effort to launch a membership program that would help move This Is Tucson toward sustainability. We introduced the program four days before we all left the office and started working from home as COVID-19 began to spread in our community.

This Is Tucson is financially supported by local businesses through underwriting, other advertising and the Arizona Daily Star. As those businesses started to struggle we turned to our readers to help support our newsroom. I have been floored by the response from our community. Today we have 370 members and their messages of support have been a massive morale boost for this team. We are pushing to make it to 400 before this year is out, so if you can contribute we would love to add you to our member rolls.

I am so grateful for our readers, our neighbors and the women who report and write our stories for displaying creativity, thoughtfulness and sacrifice in a hard, hard year. 

Andi Berlin, food writer

When all the **** hit the fan and dining rooms were closed across the state this March, I remember thinking to myself: "Who needs a restaurant critic when people can't go to restaurants?" I had just gotten back from a trip to Oaxaca, where, in a fantasy world, I'd eaten black mole in busy markets and pushed my way through an alleyway of grilled meats and a million people. It was easy to feel sorry for myself, but then I realized I'm a big, privileged dummy. 

It usually goes like that. Depression, a period of self-reflection, and then latching on to someone who needs me. In this case it was the local restaurant industry. At least I felt it needed me, considering the circumstances, so I poured everything I had at the time into telling people's stories and bringing together resources that could help people in need. I teamed up with my coworker Veronica M. Cruz to put together a guide on Where to find free food, emergency assistance and grocery resources in Tucson. When I found out that service industry folks at big box stores were getting sick, I got so angry that I helped write an expose on why places like Walmart were keeping employees in the dark.  

As toilet paper dwindled and people lined up for asparagus, grocery store workers became the heroes of this pandemic. I wanted to recognize them by writing a series of profiles from their perspectives, including everyone from farmers market vendors to liquor store clerks. I was floored by the beautiful photographs in this piece, taken by several star photographers including Josh Galemore, Kelly Presnell and Rick Wiley. During this period I also turned my sights to home cooking, and wrote a couple different recipe compilations from our readers, including 19 iconic Tucson dishes and recipes to cook at home

And then when summer hit, I was clued into one of the biggest opportunities of my journalism career. The Arizona Daily Star was participating in a joint project with The New York Times, where newspapers across the country would profile a person who had lost their job due to the coronavirus pandemic. After months of searching an interviewing a subject, my profile of local sommelier Oscar Elijo Saenz was published in the Times' special edition Out of Work in America. Oscar's story was one of the most heartbreaking things I'd ever covered, but it's an essential read for people who are interested in the pandemic's fallout on the restaurant industry. 

On a lighter note, I've also got to do some delicious eating, despite the fact that I'm limiting myself to takeout and patio dining. Some of my favorite finds this year include a drive-thru ramen spot with tsukemen dipping noodles, an amazing fried chicken sandwich on the southside, and the curry chicken noodles from Tuk Tuk Thai. Overall despite the hardships, I've had an incredibly vibrant year in food reporting, one that's led me to center others and mature as a reporter in ways I never thought possible. 

Jen Bond, Event Lister and Creative Fulfillment Coordinator

2020 is smashed and DONE, bring on 2021!  

Hi everyone! I wanted to say a BIG thank you for supporting #ThisIsTucson during this difficult and devastating year. We appreciate you and we will continue to bring you more resources, things to do and positive uplifting news and information.

Local weekend events in Tucson have been hard to find this year, but thanks to local businesses making that hard pivot, I was still able to find some fun and new events during this grueling 2020 hot mess. I will continue to dig for local events to give you something to look forward to every weekend. Remember to support local businesses, so we can start the year of 2021 positive and STRONG!

(Editor's note: If you want to make sure you get Jen's list of things to do — virtual and otherwise — every week, sign up for our Weekend Planner email newsletter here.)

Veronica M. Cruz, features writer

When I wrote my 2019 end of year reflection, I was three months into the job here at #ThisIsTucson. Now, I'm a year and three months in, and I've spent more months working from home in my stretchy pants than I did in an office with my colleagues in acceptable work attire. Definitely not how I thought the first year on the job would shake out. 

This year truly feels like a blur. And sitting down to write this, I quickly realized why, because EVERYTHING happened this year: a global pandemic, a wildfire, the census, the election and I wrote a little about all of these major events. 

But, my favorite stories were those where I got to share all the ways Tucsonans continued to do super cool things or how they rallied together to support each other in trying times. As a lifelong Tucsonan, whenever I'm asked what makes our community so special my immediate response is always: the people. Their creativity, their resiliency, their passion for doing good and supporting each other are just some of the reasons I love Tucson so much. Of course these are all qualities that should come as no surprise when you live in a place whose official mottos are basically "Bear Down" and "Be Kind." 

I started the year with a story about two female head brewers from both sides of the border collaborating on a history-making beer and learning how the Tucson Botanical Gardens team transformed a desert landscape into a modernist oasis.

By spring, when life as we knew everything had completely changed, I wrote about a few of the mutual aid groups that formed to help with grocery deliveries, hand sanitizer and accessing community resources; a group of highly motivated teens who, between studying for their AP exams taught themselves to sew masks, and went on frequent grocery trips for high-risk individuals; and how and why the Sunnyside Foundation started an emergency relief fund to help district families meet their basic needs when they couldn't get help elsewhere.

I also loved sharing the stories of people who still found ways to spread hope and joy like this dad who has written a new poem, mostly about the pandemic nearly every day since March; an artist who made the most stunning face masks from every material imaginable and documented them for an art project; and an all-female music group dedicated to highlighting the works of Latina artists and composers that started in the summer and and found ways to share their art during a time when live performances are few and far between. This is also the year I discovered my love for some our tiniest residents and the only visitors I get at my home these days: hummingbirds

As part of the membership program we launched this year, we started hosting virtual events on Zoom and Facebook Live to go behind-the-scenes at some beloved Tucson places, create art together and learn about food and self care. I am so grateful to all of the organizations and guests who joined us and shared their expertise with us in that format, giving us all a chance to have a shared experience and build community virtually. Shout out to Cactus Clouds Art, The Tucson Type, The Tucson Museum of Art, Center for Creative Photography, Reid Park Zoo, Tucson Ghost Tours, Desiree Gonzales and Andi Berlin!

Thank you Tucson, for allowing us to share your stories!

Johanna Willett, features writer

On Dec. 31, 2019, #ThisIsTucson published "A huge list of Tucson's best 2020 events." It was my last published story of 2019, and one I spent hours working on, hunting down the presumed dates for as many big Tucson festivals and events as possible. Oh, blissfully ignorant 2019 Johanna. 

Obviously, 2020 has not gone the way any of us expected. 

It's strange to look back at my 2020 stories from the Before Times — a trip to the Zoppé Family Circus with Jen, a guide to the 2020 gem show and a new, free Pima County Public Library program helping kids prepare for kindergarten. For each of those stories, I went in person, meeting clowns, librarians and a gem show vendor who let Andi sit inside a giant, amethyst geode with a baby goat

And, then, within a matter of weeks, I was writing from home about how to help while social distancing, neighborhood acts of kindness and whether Tucson hospitals would accept the hundreds of cloth masks being made all over the city. Do you all remember those days? Before you could buy a cloth mask at Old Navy or Target?

Michelle Don Carlos, founder of Mending Souls, sews masks in her home on Tucson's west side, on March 25, 2020. She and other volunteers are producing masks for emergency responders using fabric donated by local hospitals.

Some of my favorite stories this year have captured how life has adapted and carried on — like 89-year-old Mary Ellen Conrado who has spent the last 20 years repairing aircraft as a volunteer at the Pima Air and Space Museum, even amidst the pandemic. I also interviewed couples whose wedding plans were upended by coronavirus, refugee women who mobilized to sew masks for health care professionals when their sewing group could no longer gather and amateur vegetable gardeners and chicken keepers, galvanized by the empty grocery store shelves we saw at the beginning of the pandemic. So many Tucsonans were generous with their time, stories and experiences, helping us all connect with each other, if only through words. 

This is also the year we launched the newsletter course #HowToTucson, which, in eight emails, will teach you all about Tucson's food scene, culture, weather, cost of living and more. Because even in 2020, there is still much to love about this city. 

Most of all, I have been inspired by the innovation employed throughout our community as people came up with new ways to stay connected and help their neighbors. Thank you to all of you who shared your story with me. 


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