With travel limited and more people working and attending school online, we see our neighbors now more than many other people in our lives. If you’ve been too busy to get acquainted with them, it’s never too late to start. Positive community connections can be a big source of comfort during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Current restrictions on social gatherings mean that you can’t connect indoors with people outside your household, but you can come together in other ways.
Emotional Benefits of Building Community
It may feel counter-intuitive to offer your assistance to other people if you’re currently feeling lonely or depressed, but it benefits you, too.
According to research out of Columbia University cited by Psychology Today, helping others not only makes us happy, but “when helping others navigate their stressful situations, we are enhancing our own emotion regulation skills, and thus benefiting our own emotional well-being.”
Getting Started in Your Building or Block
Whether you live in multi-family housing or single-family housing, you can build community through systems already created by your city, or start an informal network of your own. Block watch organizations and disaster preparedness groups may already exist in your area. Check your city or county website for information and contact numbers.
If you prefer an informal route, you can connect in a way that suits you. That means, as an example, you can start small with just a few other residents on the same floor of your apartment building. You can later expand your group if you like.
Exchange contact information and discuss how you can assist each other. Some ways that neighbors have been supporting each other during the pandemic:
- Collaborating on containers or raised beds for a vegetable garden to share
- Donating extra vegetables to neighboring food banks
- Offering online homework help to a neighbor’s student
- Creating a meal-sharing routine to cut down on cooking duties
- Taking turns with weeding and yard care responsibilities
Of course it doesn’t have to be all business, either. You could meet up for social gatherings in the cul-de-sac, regular walks, or play groups. The connections you make with your neighbors now can continue to grow in the years to come.
City Support for Neighborhoods
The City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods traces its origins to the first P-Patch that brought Seattle residents together. In the midst of the Boeing Bust, which began in 1969, many in Seattle had lost jobs and struggled with food insecurity.
Noticing the need, Rainie Picardo and his family decided to make their land available to start a community garden. (The “P” in P-Patch stands for Picardo.) Seattle eventually bought the Picardo Farm, and it became the seed of a program that would grow to serve the entire city. It now counts 60 gardens and 12 acres (with over 1,900 plots) available for neighbors to plant, grow, and build community.
Fifty years later, the Department of Neighborhoods has expanded to respond to the needs of the city’s residents. It offers leadership development for youth and adults, funding opportunities for community groups, and many other services.
The Department of Neighborhoods also employs Community Engagement Coordinators to act as liaisons with the public in their designated areas. These coordinators can connect you with community groups in your neighborhood, help you navigate other departments within the City of Seattle, point you toward sources of funding for a project, or problem solve with you.
Other cities in the region have similar neighborhood organizations. Check with your city to learn about the services it provides to neighborhoods.
The City of Seattle began offering online COVID-19 webinars in September 2020 to keep residents informed about the pandemic. Those initial webinars evolved into a regular program called Community Conversations. The webinars appeared to be organized and conducted seamlessly. Maybe the hosts used something similar to an event management software application that enabled them to run a series of webinars with flexible registration integrations and event duplication. Furthermore, the software might have helped the hosts to customize the look and feel of each event.
“We decided to transition from COVID-19 webinars to Community Conversations,” says Alvin Edwards, Community Engagement Coordinator for the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. “We always include information about COVID-19 at the beginning of our conversations. Someone from King County Department of Public Health is available to answer questions. After that, we like to hear what people in the community have to say. We want to know what they need and what’s important to them right now,” says Edwards.
You can check Community Conversations for more information and the schedule.
Mutual Aid Organizations
Like the original P-Patch that grew out of the Boeing Bust, Mutual Aid organizations emerged at the beginning of the pandemic to help people with many of the issues that have arisen from the crisis and its economic fallout.
Seattle’s Community vs. COVID-19 Mutual Aid Solidarity Network was created by college students hoping to provide an infrastructure to connect neighbor with neighbor. It offers rent assistance, food assistance, and other services. People can volunteer through Mutual Aid organizations as well. You can go grocery shop for immune-compromised residents near you, or help out with other needs.
If you would like to connect to a Mutual Aid organization in your neighborhood, search online for one in your area. Alternatively, download the Mutual Aid app to learn more about networks and services available near you.