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Elderberry tea and dried elderberry in mortar and pestle.
Photo/Julie Brannon)

Amazing Elderberry

It happens every fall when the kids head back to class; viruses start spreading faster than an algae bloom on still water.  And don’t think you’ll be spared if your kids are the 4-legged furry kind.  Viruses are aggressively equal opportunity and you can bet that at some point you will be exposed. It’s inevitable.

My favorite go-to is elderberry, an extremely potent anti-viral weapon in the arsenal to battle fall and winter ailments. Sambucus nigra is a diminutive and unimpressive looking tree –abundant here in west central Florida– that has been revered throughout history for its remarkable ability to heal human ailments. Recipes for elder-based remedies are found in the Ebers Papyrus, written by ancient Egyptian physicians almost 7,000 years ago. The Greek physician Hippocrates, considered the Father of Medicine, described elder as his “medicine chest” for the wide variety of ailments it treated.  That was in 400 BC, and science has since confirmed what Hippocrates and other ancients knew about this itty bitty purple berry.

Try this on for size:  An Israeli study revealed that elderberry cured 90% of flu infection within 72 hours, and was effective against eight strains of influenza, both type A and B, including the bird flu. That’s nothing to sneeze at!  Elderberry’s mode of action is to “deactivate” viruses, preventing them from replicating and invading healthy cells. Even more recent research shows elderberry powerfully activates the immune system to strengthen our natural defenses, reduces inflammation, and is effective against not just 8 but 10 strains of influenza.

But here’s the catch: you absolutely positively must start elderberry at the very first sign of a virus. I can’t emphasize this enough. You cannot wait until the virus has spread throughout your system before deciding to do something about it. Hit it early –and hard, starting at the first symptom. Whether it’s a sniffle, a scratchy throat, headache, muscle aches, or simply a feeling of being “off”… jump aboard the elderberry train. You’ll be glad you did. And even if it’s not a virus making you feel puny, elderberry certainly can’t hurt, and will likely make you feel better.

I should also mention that elderberry benefits go way beyond colds and flu. It’s a powerful antioxidant, and a good choice to treat congestion, sore throat, bronchitis, constipation, and even asthma. Elderberry also cleanses the system and builds the blood.  What’s not to love?

I routinely wild harvest elderberries around Safety Harbor, and no, I won’t tell you where. I was born at night, but not last night!  I will say that elder trees love water, and are found along the banks of rivers and canals, even along the shores of Tampa Bay.  They’re easiest to spot in the spring when covered with upright bunches of little white flowers, or mid to late summer when those clusters droop with dark berries. But a word of caution:  always wear gloves when harvesting or handling fresh elder. The leaves, branches, stems, and unripe berries contain cyanide. The berries must be nearly black, dried, and boiled to be safe.

You can find elderberry bottled and sold under the name Sambucol, which is an excellent product used in many studies, but it’s an expensive one. Being an old fashioned gal I make my own elderberry extract.… and if you can boil water, you can too. It’s not a sweet berry, so you might add honey, agave, or stevia.  For picky kids think –Popsicles!  It’s a super sneaky but effective way to administer elderberry, and having a batch in the freezer means you can get treatment going fast when you need to.

Elderberries are just this side of miraculous as far as I’m concerned.  But let’s not forget all the other important ways to keep viruses at bay through cold and flu season: hand washing, reducing sugar intake, a fresh whole foods diet, and a daily probiotic will go a long way in keeping you healthy and on your feet this winter. 

If you have serious or chronic health conditions, or are pregnant or nursing, it would be wise to check with your doctor before taking elderberry or any natural remedy.  And as ever, this information is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any illness or disease, nor it intended as medical advice or a substitute for the expert care of a qualified physician. 


Int Med Res. 2004 Mar-Apr;32(2):132-40.: Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.

Eur Cytokine Netw. 2001 Apr-Jun;12(2):290-6.: The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines.

Remembering 9/11 Through the Eyes of a First Responder

in news/town square

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Gregg Donato worked for the New York City Transit Authority.

“I was a civil servant,” he says. “I had a small house and two small children. My life was work, dealing with the public, and elevators and escalators, all at the same time.”

Gregg Donato is a Safety Harbor resident now,. He met his wife Jennifer through local business owners Mike and Joan Kelly, connections from New York. He grew up on Long Island and had joined the Transit Authority in June, 1999. 

Gregg and Jennifer Donato / credit Gregg Donato

“Our quarters were at 34th and 6th St. in Manhattan. We had this thing called a six-wire. It’s a wire for police, fire department, transit, FBI, for any serious local catastrophe. That morning, we heard that something hit the World Trade Center.”

Donato and his workmates turned on the TV. “We thought it was an accident. Then the other plane flew into the second building so we knew it wasn’t an accident but we weren’t getting any calls over the six-wire. You just hear, you can’t talk into it. We were waiting for supervisors to tell us what was going on. My friend Keith ran into the quarters covered head to toe in white dust. He was like ‘guys, we’ve got to go. It’s a horror show down there.’ Without waiting for permission, we all left the transit property. We jumped on a train and took it down as far as we could go. The train was cut off to the World Trade Center for obvious reasons. The cops were there so we showed them our ID and they let us in.”

The scene was surreal.

“It looked like we were on a movie set—it looked like hell on a movie set. People were screaming, crying. Thick smoke was everywhere. We had to walk a couple blocks to the building. We hitched a ride in a police paddy wagon and went to the site and started suiting up to go in there.

9/11/2001 Credit: Gregg Donato

“All the news was trying to hit us up,” Donato remembers. “John Stossil from Channel 7 was trying to talk to us to get a story but no one was stopping to talk. There was a line of people struggling to get in to help. In the beginning there were a lot of civilians trying to help the police and fire departments. Any related agencies all came together. Man, when we got in there, our shoes started melting off our feet from standing on the pile. Nobody knew where to start.”  

Finally, a fireman directed Donato and his workmates to a spot in front of the South Tower. “We were right in front of the second building. [The fireman] said, ‘my friend’s truck is over here.’ We found the spot. The truck was gone, only the engine was there, running, and it ran the whole time we were there.”

credit: Gregg Donato

Donato and his team started digging. They were hoping to find the fireman’s friend. “We found his friend’s boots but there was nothing in them. That guy, he broke down.”

 There would be thousands killed or injured that day.

“We were just elevator mechanics. When you take that civil service job, they don’t consider you just that title. You’re there for the public. As time went on a lot more of our department showed up. Everybody from the transit was there. It was like the first time I ever saw the whole world pulled together in one little tiny spot.” Fire departments arrived from across the country. Dogs were brought in from Switzerland, fire departments from Germany. “Some of us couldn’t [communicate] but we knew what we were doing.”

credit: Gregg Donato
‘”Brian” credit: Gregg Donato

Donato became part of a sort of bucket brigade, passing five-gallon pails. “The digging was the hardest part. We were shoveling up remains of people.”

The North Tower was already on fire.

His friend Brian was with an Emergency Service Unit and was called to the scene. “We never found a piece of him,” Donato says. “I have a picture of him outside the building right before he was to go in. But there were a lot of people who couldn’t get out. Brian went in with a bunch of people to try to help. The rest of the building came down on top of him. It disintegrated into nothing. They didn’t find an article of clothing, his helmet, or his badge.”

The whole city opened up for them.

They were given food, water, clothing and work boots. “We were going through shoes – like every three hours you had to change your shoes.” They were given hotel rooms to sleep in and for part of the time, he stayed on an aircraft carrier. “There was a cruise ship there too,” he says. “There was about ten guys I stayed with that some lived upstate, some from Pennsylvania. We could get a few hours of sleep. My ex-wife was like ‘are you ever coming home?’ and I didn’t know.

“OSHA came down and started fitting us for respirators. We were respirator trained. We were telling the guy the cartridges were not rated for that kind of debris. In turn, people got a lot sicker than I did. A lot of my friends did pass away. I still have my mask in my mother’s garage. With the same cartridges, too.”

credit: Gregg Donato

Some memories still haunt him more than others.

“We had people handing us pictures through the fence, asking us for any hope in finding their family members. We would find pictures in the debris. At a certain point we knew we weren’t going to find more people. We were just looking for things that would ease the families.

“There was also a tremendous amount of stealing. Money, watches off of dead people. Anything they could find. But there was no way we were going to be part of that. There was a Rolex store and it was still intact. These people were like ‘they’re just going to write it off anyway.’ They smashed the booth and cleared the whole thing out. It wasn’t all as honorable as you’d think.”

“We found a child smashed into a beam. The police commissioner went on the loudspeaker and announced a moment of silence. We took our hardhats off and kneeled while they carried this little kid out. The kid was nine years old. We just kept finding bits and pieces of people hoping we’d find someone alive. You were lucky to find body parts.”

Donato remembers finding a wallet. “His last name was White. His whole wallet was like a Shrinky Dink. It was inside an airplane chair. All that was left of the chair were wire pieces. His American Airlines credit card was still in the wallet.

“After a while you just couldn’t help anymore.”

Eighteen years later . . .

Today, Donato has many of the physical and emotional symptoms caused by the attacks.

“They try to give you psychiatric help but most of us didn’t get anything out of it. We all talk to each other. I think about it every day. It never leaves me.”

Those of us old enough to remember that morning remember the images on TV, the stories, the fear. Even though Donato has vivid memories of horror, he says there is one positive thing he came away with. “There really is a world that does want to be one – setting aside political views and what not. It gave me total confidence that people all over the world are on the same page. They showed it right away. Nobody invited them, they just came. That’s about the only good thing I got out of it.”

Recent photo of the Donatos in front of One World Trade Center
Credit: Gregg Donato

Harbor Happenings: Week of September 2, 2019

in city hall/events

This Labor Day weekend brought hurricane prep but fortunately for us Dorian remains of the Atlantic side of the Florida peninsula. Folks in the Bahamas will need support as they begin recovery efforts. Hopefully, Dorian will continue to move up – and out – away from the east coast.

The City Commission meets tonight. Find the Agenda here: http://safetyharbor.granicus.com/GeneratedAgendaViewer.php?view_id=6&event_id=1676

There will be public hearing regarding the Millage Rate and tentative 2019-2020 Budget, the 2020 Municipal Election and Qualifying Period (did you know the qualifying period is one week?) and the code amendment to establish locational requirements for recording devices placed on poles on residential property.

New Business includes a request for a Downtown Partnership Grant for 509 Main Street, amendments to the land development code, a draft ordinance requiring backflow protection for breweries and the first reading of Draft Ordinance 2019-16 which would “amend the Land Development Code to establish exemptions to the 35 foot/3 stories height requirement and establish a height incentive in portions of the Community Redevelopment District.”

Please see the City Commission Agenda for more information – and see the calendar below for more Harbor Happenings this week.

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September 2019

Open Mic with Josh Plummer

September 3 @ 7:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Troubled Waters Brewing, 670 Main St.
Safety Harbor, FL 34695 United States
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Tuesdays at 7pm

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InPrompt2! A Prompted Open Mic Night

September 4 @ 7:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Safety Harbor Art & Music Center, 706 2nd Street North
Safety Harbor, FL 34695 United States
+ Google Map

What's the strangest, oddest, weirdest experience you've ever had? Do you still think of that moment or that thing that happened to you that you were never able to explain? We want to hear it in the form of a story, song or poem. You get up to 7 minutes at the mic. One project…

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Latin Thursday in the Lobby Lounge

September 5 @ 7:00 PM - 11:00 PM
Safety Harbor Resort & Spa, 105 N. Bayshore Drive
Safety Harbor, Florida 34695 United States
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Live Latin music and dancing every Thursday night.

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Taylor Fletcher Band

September 6 @ 8:00 PM - 11:00 PM
Harbor Bar, 840 Main Street
Safety Harbor, 34695 United States
+ Google Map
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Market on Main

September 8 @ 9:00 AM - 1:00 PM
John Wilson Park & Gazebo, 401 Main Street
Safety Harbor, FL 34695 United States
+ Google Map
Find out more »

Fake Blues

September 13 @ 9:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Harbor Bar, 840 Main Street
Safety Harbor, 34695 United States
+ Google Map
Find out more »

Market on Main

September 15 @ 9:00 AM - 1:00 PM
John Wilson Park & Gazebo, 401 Main Street
Safety Harbor, FL 34695 United States
+ Google Map
Find out more »

Words & Wine Book Group

September 16 @ 6:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Whistle Stop Bar & Grill, 915 Main St.
Safety Harbor, FL 34695 United States

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin Find out more about the book on GoodReads!

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Words & Wine Book Club

September 16 @ 6:30 PM - 9:00 PM
|Recurring Event (See all)

An event every month that begins at 6:30 PM on day Third of the month, happening 3 times

Whistle Stop Bar & Grill, 915 Main St.
Safety Harbor, FL 34695 United States
+ Google Map

Words & Wine meets on the 3rd Monday of each month at Whistle Stop Bar & Grill. October - Carnegie’s Maid, by Marie Benedict November – The Last Year of the War, by Susan Meissner December – The Library of Lost and Found, by Phaedra Patrick 

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Books & Bagels Book Club

September 17 @ 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
|Recurring Event (See all)

An event every month that begins at 10:30 AM on day Third of the month, happening 4 times

Safety Harbor Public Library, 101 2nd Street N. FL 34695 United States + Google Map

Books & Bagels meets on the third Tuesday of each month. July:  My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman  August:  Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith  September:  Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See  October:  Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman 

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Third Friday Music Series

September 20 @ 6:00 PM - 10:00 PM
John Wilson Park & Gazebo, 401 Main Street
Safety Harbor, FL 34695 United States
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Finger Style Guitar: TBFGG 3rd Saturday

September 21 @ 7:00 PM - 11:00 PM
|Recurring Event (See all)

An event every month that begins at 7:00 PM on day Third of the month, happening 6 times

Brady’s Backyard BBQ, 340 Main St
Safety Harbor, FL 34695 United States
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"Members of TBFGG play instrumental guitar music all night no breaks! Music of Bach, Beethoven, Flamenco, Classical, Beatles, Ragtime, Movie Themes, Pop and more!" (Facebook)

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Market on Main

September 22 @ 9:00 AM - 1:00 PM
John Wilson Park & Gazebo, 401 Main Street
Safety Harbor, FL 34695 United States
+ Google Map
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Ukulele Open Mic

September 26 @ 7:00 PM - 10:00 PM
|Recurring Event (See all)

An event every month that begins at 7:00 PM on day Fourth of the month, happening 6 times

Whistle Stop Bar & Grill, 915 Main St.
Safety Harbor, FL 34695 United States
+ Google Map

Please see Meetup for information and updates.

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Totally 80s! Totally Murder!

September 27 @ 6:30 PM - 10:00 PM

Save the Date: A Murder Mystery Theatre supporting the Safety Harbor Library's 20/20 Vision Campaign.

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Safety Harbor's new fitness center addition to the Community Center, under construction. (Photo/Kathryn Malaxos)

History, People, and Places Series: A City Dedicated to Youth and Recreation – with thanks to Superman!

in city hall/news

In the mid-twentieth century, The Safety Harbor Spa was a luxurious winter haven for New York’s wealthy. Many guests got to know the workers and would request their favorite server or attendant year after year. In 1955 and for several years thereafter, one such visitor was Harry Donenfeld, owner of DC Comics, publisher of Superman.

[Photo/Laura Kepner]

Longtime resident Betty Lou Douglas, recalls being a teenager in Safety Harbor in the late 1950s. “Harry Donenfeld somehow found out there was nothing for us to do,” she said. “He may have gotten to know some of our parents who worked at the Spa.

We would walk from one end of town to another—we just hung out. Maybe he felt sorry for us. We were pretty much on our own.”

Whatever his reasons, Donenfeld donated funds to build a youth center. The 70’ x 30’ concrete block building was located close to where the Rigsby Recreation Center now stands, on 2nd Street North. “It faced sixth,” Douglas recalls, “it was located where the retention pond is now.”  

In April, 1957, the Safety Harbor Herald claimed the opening ceremony had “one of the largest crowds in the history of Safety Harbor.”

“We had to find the money to make it nice inside,” Douglas said.  “Seems to me we painted it turquoise and black. There was a lady in town named Carmel Creach. She got the idea that all of us kids could participate in a lip-synch to old songs. It was called Sentimental Journey. We made money. We bought a stereo system, a ping pong table. Our parents made the costumes. It was so good they booked us to go to the Clearwater Yacht Club. We even got to meet Guy Lombardo.” 

It cost a dime to get in to the youth center and the parents chaperoned. “You had to sign in and sign out,” recalled Douglas. “You were allowed to sign in and out twice. After your second sign-out, you could not get back in, and parents could always look at those books.

“We were very safe, but everybody knew your business. My two nieces grew up here. One is now back and she has two boys. Their lives are very much like I had,” she said. “They ride their bikes; they go to the pier to fish.”

Donenfeld continued to support the center and he even mailed comics from time to time. People who remember the youth center recall when he made a surprise visit. He apparently walked into a board meeting and donated the money for a new, larger TV set so the kids wouldn’t ‘ruin their eyes’.

Youth opportunities have expanded since then.

Now, sixty some years after Harry Donenfeld took an interest in Safety Harbor’s youth, the City employs a large staff dedicated to encouraging residents to take advantage of the opportunities that promote active lifestyles. Today, residents enjoy a community center, a recreation center, numerous parks and a thriving library.  In fact, the community center will soon house a fitness center that will be approximately 2,000 square feet of workout area. Equipment will include cardio, strength training, and free weights.

In an email, Shannon Schafer, Safety Harbor’s Recreation Superintendent, wrote, “The Fitness Center is a product of our commitment to our Health goal in keeping our residents active. Participants can also seek consultation from one of our staff for an orientation of the equipment or sign up with a personal trainer to create a more individualized plan to meet their fitness goals. 

 “The new addition will be open seven days a week and we will have daily, monthly and annual rates. The annual rate breaks down to only $.28 / day for residents of Safety Harbor.  The hours are flexible to meet a variety of participant schedules.”

The targeted date for the grand opening is November 16th  from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm.

There have been many changes with our recreational opportunities over the past sixty years but maybe it all started thanks to a real-life  Superman.

Note: A portion of this article was first published in REAL Magazine in fall, 2017.

Re-introducing our sustainability column

in town square

I am Laura Grimme’ McCullough and I’ve lived in the area since 1998. I’ve raised three children here and have been an active volunteer for many of those years. I’m also a Registered Nurse in a local hospital.

I have has always been interested in sustainability, but these issues went from the back to the front burner when my first granddaughter was born. Suddenly, the future wasn’t something far off; it was here, now. I chose to become an even stronger role model to my grandchildren and hopefully, make a difference for yours as well. I’m involved with Indivisible Safety Harbor, a political action group,  but this forum will be used strictly for sustainability concerns. 

Being passionate about our beautiful community, state, country, and planet, I write to share information, encourage positive actions, and strengthen our relationships so that all future generations will continue to enjoy what we continue to work hard to protect. Please look for my articles in future installments. Check back often for more helpful tips on sustainability.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Meade


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