After a brief moment of relief, the surge in COVID-19 cases is again the focus of the country due to the delta variant. With the return of mask mandates and other precautions, people who work in mental health are concerned about the dark side effects of the pandemic also returning, including the depression rates.
It's a story that begins and ends with a bar-b-que sauce.
You see, in the South, people love food that's hot, with restaurants called 400 Degrees and Slow Burn. In little Franklin, Kentucky, Floena Spencer and son Shawn Woods know how to deliver hot.
"I've met people who say, ‘I don't have a limit for my spice!’" said Woods. I said, ‘Okay. I’ll see what me and my mom can do.’”
They make their bar-b-que sauce as hot or mild as you want it.
"Mrs. Virginia Smith, she eats it out of the jar with a spoon," laughed Spencer. "Our sauce is called Spencer Sauce."
A mother and son started this business in sauce after a challenging year. In 2020, Spencer’s uncle died from the novel coronavirus.
"It was a very dark moment for me," she said.
Then, she went through two painful surgeries that meant she couldn't take part in social justice protests that were so important to her. The isolation from her neighbors, from everyone, during surgery and COVID-19 became overwhelming.
"I was suffering from depression,” said Spencer. “I wasn't talking about it. What was too much was when I found out my son was depressed. That was what broke me."
"I left Franklin and went off to play college ball for a bit,” said Woods. “It didn't work out for me. Being that hometown hero, everybody wanted me to do good. When I came back to Franklin, I felt like I let the whole town down."
"I would have never known it," said Spencer. "It was at my own front door. As a parent, you don't rest."
When the pandemic forced people across the country into isolation, new conversations started on mental health. In that time, the CDC says adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression disorder rose to 41.5%. With cases of the delta variant now surging and mask mandates coming back, many fear what a possible return of isolation could mean.
Spencer has long carried these words.
"A closed mouth does not get fed,” she said. “If you're feeling down, tell somebody."
Spencer and Woods have decided during this surge, they're using the start of their business to open dialogues about depression and emphasize the importance of therapy and counseling.
"The Lord had to shut my mouth and put me in a situation where there was nothing I could do but listen,” said Spencer.
They emphasize family connection by naming each sauce after a loved one. The business gives them new purpose.
“I had to find something in my life to motivate me beyond just going to work paycheck to paycheck,” said Woods.
In a story that begins and ends with a bar-b-que sauce, this mother-son pair is ready to give people what they want, but they're also here to talk about what they need.
"You just have to be there for your neighbor," said Woods.