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Coming Together While Staying Apart

The COVID-19 outbreak has upended our lives on an unprecedented scale. With new norms like empty streets, ransacked supermarkets, and mass hysteria on social media, the pandemic has created a feeling of uncertainty and discomfort among us. Do I have a job to go back to? How are the pensioners on my street getting their shopping? Will my favorite restaurants, and shops survive?

Right now, remaining apart is your act of social solidarity, but, for many of us, that’s not enough. We’re missing our friends and family, and concerned for the people most affected by the pandemic; the essential workers, vulnerable members in the community and the businesses forced to close. 

While there’s no positive spin to put on a pandemic, there are some things we can do to become more resilient and have each other’s backs, despite these temporary lockdown measures. This post is about how we can unite while staying apart — so let’s start!

Living Apart, Together

For the time being, many people are separated from their family and friends. Since we’re not able to gather with our loved ones, milestones like birthdays and weddings, religious festivals, and proms, are celebrated apart. It’s frustrating, but it’s a small sacrifice with a big impact. 

“It’s really about physical distancing while maintaining social connections. If we’re going to do this for a while, we’re going to have to find new ways to be socially connected to each other.” Dr. Asaf Bitton, a global health expert at Harvard Medical School 

Physical distancing does not have to mean social distancing but you do need to plan a bit more. Fortunately, we’re in the year 2020 and have lots of communication tools at our disposal: 

  • Zoom and similar providers are bridging a very wide gap. Whether it’s for a corporate meeting, a virtual happy hour with friends, or gathering with family to sing happy birthday to Grandma Mary. 
  • Movie nights connected by Netflix Party allow you to host long-distance movie nights,
  • Set up virtual happy hours to meet friends on Saturday night. 

Aside from all the bells and whistles of tech comms, a simple phone call is great too. It’s even said that letter writing has seen a revival. But, there is something uniquely uplifting about seeing the face of someone you’re fond of. Which wasn’t lost on the friends of Jasper Korotko who planned a drive-by birthday parade to flash their smiles to Jasper from a safe distance on his driveway.

Keeping in touch offers Insights into other people’s lives and reminds us that even though you’re staying apart, we’re all in this together. Use this time to catch up with friends, share your lockdown highs, lows, and cat photos, and offer support when inevitably, someone has a bad day. 

Checking in with loved ones is essential to your wellbeing, the same goes for your local community. Many people won’t have the help they need, the income or emotional support to get through it, and you might be able to help. Recognizing that each of us is affected differently by the pandemic, local communities are finding creative ways to get through it together — at a safe distance. 

Yeti making a heart with his hands

Finding Hope and Community in the Chaos

 In the well-recited words of John Donne, 

No man is an island, entire of itself  

WIth juxtaposing messages of how we are all in this together, that communities need to band together and support each other, and how we need to stay isolated inside is a bit of a mind job. Nevertheless, keeping people physically apart hasn’t stopped people from coming together. The pandemic has brought out the best in people around the world. From the balcony singers in Italy to the rooftop workouts in Spain, and beyond, people are finding ingenious ways to show comradery. 

  • Connect with your community. Many people want to help out in their local communities for a sense of purpose right now, especially at a time many of us aren’t able to feel accomplished at work.  There are small, practical ways to reach out to your community and build links that will outlast the virus. Care-mongering Facebook groups started in Canada have popped up everywhere with people organizing support for their most vulnerable community members. These groups focus on helping people access necessities such as housing, healthcare, and food. 
  • Keep in touch with your neighbors. If you don’t have one already, start a system for your neighbors to communicate via emails or a WhatsApp group so that someone who needs help can call on a neighbor without leaving home. Handwritten notes indoors or tied around trees with the group number will also get things started. Check on the senior citizens in your street, remembering that a kind word can make the difference of life or death to someone in need. They often don’t have the strength to carry as much and as a risk group shouldn’t go shopping themselves. Ask what they need, and pick the items up at the store. 

Food banks are also closed right now which leaves many reliant families concerned over limited money to afford basic supplies. Why not start a neighborhood donation point for essentials like soap, nappies, and food, and use the WhatsApp group to coordinate what people need the most. 

You could also show comradery by joining neighborhood rituals like stringing holiday lights together, adorning plaques in windows to brighten people’s day. Since parks and schools are closed, parents are painting rocks with their children and dropping them around for others to find around the neighborhood — and remind guardians to stay positive. Entire roads have created what’s become known as a bear walk where people put teddy bears in their windows to inject some joy into children’s daily walks. 

However, you decide to connect with your neighbors, make sure to maintain these soul-restoring human connections once restrictions are lifted.

virtual award

Acknowledge Your Local Heroes

One of the most traumatic parts of the pandemic is news stories of our struggling doctors and nurses at the front line. Not all heroes wear capes, with a pandemic, the heroes wear scrubs. 

By staying home, we are protecting those who can’t make that choice. 

  • You too can support your local hospitals. While you might feel powerless to help, there are many small ways you too can safely thank people working on the front line. If you’ve got the skills, how about making protective cloth masks. The shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) makes going to work dangerous for many essential employees. The GetUsPPE site shows locations looking for donations, instructions for drop-off/pickup, and what items locations are accepting. You can also check for local fundraisers in your area. Many hospitals have information on their websites about how and what to donate, including options for donations to a hospital’s rainy day fund. 
  • Small gestures can show your gratitude. These times are stressful on the strongest minds, any small act of kindness, as simple as sharing a smile can brighten someone’s day. Send texts and call friends and family who are still working. Consider making a sign for your front yard, or replace something in your window that local workers can see when they pass your home that continues to work amid the lockdown. Small gestures make a great effect. Above all. Remember, the easiest way to thank essential workers is by following regulations put in place to keep them safe.  
grocery shopping online

Keep Small Businesses in Mind

It goes without saying that the fallout from the pandemic is hitting the economy hard. And while social distancing helps mitigate the coronavirus crisis, it’s had a devastating effect on small businesses and freelancers. Imagine your city center without small local stores, art galleries, cafes, and restaurants, independent artists, photographers, and designers, the list goes on. They are your neighbors, friends, and coworkers that know you by name. Governments are providing some financial relief but ultimately, it’s up to the local community to keep these businesses going. 

  • Buy Local. Whenever possible, consider giving them your business. As long as you are buying from someone in your community, you’re helping to keep people in their jobs. For example, If you stocked up on anything that is dried, canned or long-lasting. you could set your mind to fresh goods now. How about fresh pasta from your local deli? Fruit and vegetables from the farm shop? How about treating yourself to a takeaway? Your favorite restaurants may have had to shut their doors, but many of them still offer takeout or delivery. Ordering now not only does that keep the business going, but it also provides income for delivery drivers.
  • Check if your existing services are now available online. Many local businesses have redesigned their services to meet the demands of people self-isolating. Many can be continued through videos or online conferences. From therapy to fitness, to tutoring, creative writing, and software development. Check to see which of your existing classes or services are now being provided online. If a local business offers this option, take it! 
  • Buy gift cards. Some of the hardest hit by social distancing are event-based businesses or those that offer services that can’t be replaced remotely. In this case, buy a gift card for an instant cash injection. Even if you aren’t buying anything else because you’re stuck at home, you can give your local shops or favorite restaurant a vote of confidence by buying now to use later, when life returns to normal. 
  • Think twice before canceling services. If you still have a steady income and the financial means to do it, continue to pay your cleaning people, hairstylist, nanny, etc. As for canceled live events, if you still want to go to see live acts after the crisis is over, it’s important to protect cultural institutions now by waiving your right to a refund. Likewise, If local artists ever needed your support, it is now. Many survive off the income from gigs and exhibitions which can’t happen for the time being. You can still support them with donations on Patreon, buy their merchandise or records, or commission a local artist to create a customized work for you.
  • Help promote local businesses. Often, local businesses don’t have huge marketing budgets and rely on word of mouth advertising. As a customer, you can help spread the word. Check with the businesses you frequently shop with. They may have altered their services to fit the temporary ‘new normal’. Start a local network, Facebook group, or WhatsApp where people can engage with local businesses remotely like Support Local Or Else in Charlotte, New York, where businesses can promote deals and services during this time. 
  • Offer your services. If you’re a website designer, developer, or social media expert you help those that don’t have an online presence to help them sell and promote online.

We’re in the midst of unsettling times but we do have the potential to come together with our communities to set us up for the future and build some resilience to our new environment. Keep tech in mind to keep us close as we can be, find ways to connect with your neighbors and above all, look after yourself, however that looks for you. 

If we all play our part, we will defeat this viral crisis. Once it’s over, let’s not forget the lessons we learned during this time about the value of creating and sustaining meaningful connections with other people. Finally to all the key workers keeping us safe, thank you.

We’d love to hear the unique ways you are staying united with your friends and family, and how your local community is pulling together right now.

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Isobel Weston

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