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How Coronavirus Changed My Relationship With My Neighbors

And what we plan to do when this is all over.

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Cristina Spanò
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A few months ago, as the moving truck navigated the 15-minute trip to our new home, my husband and I said goodbye to the neighbors on either side of us. Even though we had lived in the neighborhood for a decade, they were the only ones we knew by name.

I had met a few families during our Halloween block parties, but during the hour everyone shared side dishes on a neighbor’s front lawn it was difficult to make any connections. The focus was on candy and costumes, not conversation. I never felt a sense of community, and — in fairness to my neighbors — I wasn’t looking for one.

After the movers stacked the last four boxes in our garage, my new neighbor to the left introduced himself and welcomed us to the area. “You’ll love it here,” said Charles. The couple across the street, both Realtors, offered names of plumbers and electricians. Sandra, another neighbor, handed me a list that included her favorite restaurants and the names of two nearby grocery stores. Those neighbors made a conscious effort to connect and let us know we could count on them. When I stepped inside, I promised myself I would make an effort to do the same with the rest of my neighbors. I never imagined that only a few months later, a global pandemic would accelerate that.

While the coronavirus outbreak has been swift and unexpected, so has the drive for my neighbors to come together, help and support one another. Instead of getting together at block parties or gathering at a nearby park, we’re connecting through Nextdoor, an app that in the past I’d only used to buy or sell various items.

The more popular posts offer errand-running services to the elderly and others unable to leave their homes. One empty nester is willing to handle tasks for neighbors who need extra assistance. “And if you can offer help to neighbors in need, comment below with how,” she posted. Other neighbors were swift to respond and share their availability to pick up medications or groceries.

Not only have retirees and other adults, some now working from home, been eager to help, but so have young people sent home from college. One student posted, “I am fortunate enough to be healthy and want to help out anyone who needs it,” she wrote. Commenters commended her on her initiative.

As shoppers depleted area supplies of toilet paper, neighbors reported rare sightings — calling to mind bird-watchers sharing the location of endangered species. “I saw some toilet paper at the Dollar Store,” said one woman. “Tom Thumb (our area grocery store) has plenty,” said another. Within 15 minutes, various neighbors responded: “They’re both out. Try this place instead.”

One neighbor, an 82-year-old Navy veteran, put the situation into perspective. He shared the story of when he was a little boy during World War II, and food and supplies were rationed for five years. He survived blackouts and stay-at-home stints from two or three days at a time. “All the while our brothers, sisters and fathers were being killed overseas,” he wrote. His advice to his neighbors? “We can endure this in 2020.”

Along with toilet-paper updates, a neighbor sent an open message thanking a woman for helping her find a certain brand of spray cleaner at the grocery store. “Instead of taking them for herself,” she wrote, “she was kind enough to share one with me.” Others are offering suggestions like “Don’t flush paper towels or napkins, it will clog up your sewage lines” and “Let’s support our local businesses by ordering take-out or buying gift cards.”

My neighbors are taking the outbreak seriously, but a few added a bit of levity by posting memes and jokes. One guy posted, “Armed toilet-paper security guard, $500 per hour.” Dozens of neighbors responded with laughing emoji and hearts. Another shared a picture of his family’s “safe room,” a small bathroom lined floor to ceiling with filled toilet-paper holders mounted on the walls.

The onset of a global pandemic is bringing my neighborhood together virtually. Based on a recent post, its end will bring us together in real life.

“When this drama is in our rearview mirror, I want to have a neighborhood yard party,” wrote one woman. “Y’all in?”

The response was overwhelmingly positive: “Yes, I’ll be ready to get out!” wrote a few. “Good plan!” wrote others. But one response made me feel closer to all of them: “Great! We’ll decorate with toilet-paper streamers and bottles of Purell!”