7 Creative Ways to Build Neighborhood Unity in the Age of Social Distancing
Spread a little kindness and cheer.
My neighbors haven't always seen eye to eye on things. Our town's Facebook group has featured never-ending bickering over whether we should have a town pool, which elementary school is the best, and the perennial property tax lament. (And don't even get me started on the epic battle over the Halloween parade the year that Hurricane Sandy forced it to be postponed.)
But the negativity seemed to disappear overnight, once it became apparent that the coronavirus was going to disrupt our daily lives. And that's led to a lot more camaraderie among my neighbors. A senior citizen who was unable to find bread and milk at the grocery store had a neighbor quickly step up and drop off a fresh-baked homemade loaf and a quart of milk from her stash. Others have offered to run errands, grocery shop and stop by for a quick (through the window) hello to people who were sick. And my friend started up a campaign to place shamrocks in the windows for little kids to look for when they were out walking on St. Patrick's Day.
But we're not the only ones to lend a hand (and a lot of support) in the midst of this crisis—neighbors around the world have shown incredible kindness and unity in the face of the pandemic. If you're looking for ways to encourage more solidarity among your neighbors, give these ideas a try.
Deck the halls.
It's a little late now for shamrocks, but you can beautify your neighborhood by putting handmade paper flowers or bunnies in your windows in honor of the start of spring, for the neighborhood kids to seek out on their walks. Many homes have started reinstalling their Christmas lights (or just relighting the ones they failed to remove in the first place) to add a little extra cheer. And there have been calls to light candles in the windows to honor our hardworking health care workers.
Sing your hearts out.
Inspired by the Italians, who are gathering at windows and balconies every day to break out into song, New York apartment buildings have opted to put their own spin on the idea—one launched into the Temptations' "My Girl," while another looped through the endless "na-na-nas" of "Hey Jude" by the Beatles. And a woman in Pittsburgh has organized a "CoronaChoir" to sing (socially distanced, of course) to lighten moods.
Find a way to celebrate.
Behind closed doors, life is still going on—and birthdays, anniversaries, and other milestones are being celebrated. So if you have good news to share, go big. An adorable four-year-old in Detroit couldn’t have his birthday party, but his best friends set up a handmade “Honk for the Birthday Boy” sign on his yard, so other people in the neighborhood could send well wishes with a beep. You could also simply set up a simple Happy Birthday/Anniversary sign in the yard of someone who has something to celebrate. Or get creative and ask all the neighbors to drop a lawn ornament in the birthday boy's or girl's yard overnight, as long as they maintain social distancing when doing it.
Offer your help—especially to elderly neighbors.
If you have senior citizens in your area, leave a note in their mailbox with your phone number, offering to run errands or simply chat on the phone if they're feeling lonely. Some neighborhoods have set up Help Maps on the app NextDoor, so people can offer assistance to people in need. A few neighborhoods have distributed signs that say "OK" and "Need Help" or green and red slips of paper to each house, to provide an easy way for neighbors to ask for assistance when they need it.
Share what you have.
If you...ahem...overbought slightly on TP, or you've just stress baked your fifth batch of cookies, go ahead and offer them to your neighbors via text or social media. You can deliver to their doorstep, or just leave it on your stoop as a contactless (and much-appreciated) gift. One neighbor decided to set up a "swap shop" on her front lawn, offering old DVDs, puzzles, and games for free to people in need of a little entertainment while they're housebound. And with protective gear in short supply for healthcare workers, take a look in your garage to see if you have any of the N95 masks you can donate to your local hospital, or consider organizing the neighborhood crafters to make masks using the patterns published online to help with the shortage.
Get together(ish) responsibly.
If the weather's nice, set up a driveway (or sidewalk) happy hour, where the neighbors gather outside with a beverage of choice to chat—from a six-foot distance. You could also arrange a stroll with a few of your closest neighbors, as long as you maintain social distancing while you do it.
Spread some joy.
Break out Halloween costumes to make your daily dog walk a whole lot more fun, or play a mini-set of music out on your lawn or parading through the neighborhood if you're musically inclined. (Many music teachers have been encouraging their students to do this as part of their daily practice.) Find a way to bring the fun—even if you're apart.