It’s perhaps cliche to say that crisis brings out the deepest human love and solidarity, as well as the deepest grief. But that statement is a truism because it is true. Even during the horrors of the coronavirus pandemic, there is hope in community.
If you, like billions around the world, are currently socially distancing at home, it’s normal to feel antsy, anxious, or powerless. It’s natural impulse to want to be physically present with our loved ones in crisis, so the lack of the gatherings — events like protests, religious services, or community meetings — which normally strengthen us, can be particularly taxing right now.
But even at a distance, you remain a crucial part of your community. Helping your neighbors can be a profound way to help yourself: social connection is fundamental to our physical and emotional health, and community involvement can literally add years to your life. If you’re feeling motivated to support your community, but are unsure how to help, try one of these suggestions to meet neighbors’ vital needs while building solidarity from six feet away.
1. Join or Create a Mutual Aid Network
Mutual aid networks are grassroots community organizations, usually based by locality, which take a communal, resource-sharing approach to social solidarity.
Mutual aid networks are usually not NGOs, and they are not charitable organizations. Charity implies a structure of those who give to those who do not; mutual aid, on the other hand, assumes that everyone both needs something and has something to give, whether that’s time, emotional support, material resources, or simply their presence. Currently, many mutual aid networks are focused on pooling money for folks who have lost jobs, redistributing groceries to neighbors in need, checking in on vulnerable neighbors, or providing collective services like childcare or grocery delivery.
You can look through these national and international directories to find a mutual aid network near you. You can also search for New York City-specific networks or find resources for folks specifically in the Rust Belt. Or, you can start a mutual aid network of your own, by reaching out to neighbors via email, a phone tree, or a Whatsapp group, and determining the collective needs and resources. Check out this toolkit to get started!
2. Call an Elder
Our elders are some of the most valuable sources of love, wisdom, and strength in our lives and communities, and yet they are most at risk right now. Even those elders who are well-resourced enough to self-isolate, and lucky enough to remain healthy, may experience increased loneliness due to social distancing.
If you’re social distancing at home, now is a great time to reconnect with the elders in your life. Call your grandparents, aunts and uncles, or mentors, ask what they need, and simply spend (remote) time together. If you have elderly neighbors in your building or on your block with whom you haven’t connected before, slip a note under their door introducing yourself, leaving your number, and offering to help make grocery runs or simply chat. If you are making deliveries for folks, remember to practice sanitary protocols to prevent vulnerable elders from coming into contact with the virus.
You can also volunteer with a local elderly care organization to check on neighbors with regular phone calls or grocery deliveries. Check to find elderly services organizations in your area.
3. Donate Public Transit to an Essential Worker
In cities across the United States, social distancing measures are leading to unprecedented decreases in public transit ridership. At the same time, many essential workers still need to use public transit to get to their jobs, upping their risk of illness. And with public transit ticket rates at historically high prices in cities like New York, accessing public transit in even the best of times can be a serious strain on folks’ finances.
If you purchased a monthly or multi-month public transit pass and now find yourself working from home, consider donating it to an essential worker. If you’re in New York City, you can connect to neighbors through Corona Metro. If you live elsewhere, you can reach out to friends or neighbors directly, or offer your public transit access through your local mutual aid network.
4. Become a Citizen Historian
Oral history is the first draft of public memory. It’s a way to validate and uplift the experiences of the everyday folks whose lives often go unrecorded. Historians are already documenting the coronavirus pandemic for posterity. You can help your community do the vital work of remembrance by contributing your story to a university, media organization, or nonprofit, or by becoming a citizen oral historian yourself.
People across the country can become a volunteer oral historian, or submit your own story, with Indiana University’s COVID-19 oral history project. At the pandemic’s American epicenter, Brooklyn residents can share their stories with The Brooklyn Public Library, while New Yorkers from all boroughs can participate in Columbia University’s COVID-19 oral history project. Meanwhile, you can also contribute to regional oral history efforts if you’re a resident of Arkansas, Indiana, Chicago, Missouri, Central-Southern Appalachia, or Western Pennsylvania.
5. Make Fabric Masks
With the CDC now recommending, and some states requiring, residents to wear face coverings in public, fabric masks are even more important. Whether you’re an expert tailor, or just learning how to sew, you can help keep your neighbors safe.
Get Us PPE includes extensive resources for home mask makers. They have mask patterns and tips on best sanitary practices, as well as links for sewists to connect with other makers in their areas. Find the Masks also helps connect makers to healthcare and other essential workers in need of masks.
First, sew masks for yourself and members of your household, so you can safely deliver to others. Then, reach out to neighbors, friends, and relatives to offer your mask-making services, and donate to local hospitals and community organizations. If you’re donating to folks outside of your household, no-contact dropoffs, or mailing the masks, is the safest bet.
Remember: You Are More Than What You Do
With many of us worrying about how to afford food, care for our families, keep a roof over our heads, and heal from sickness, the prospect of doing even more can feel overwhelming. That, the pressure to be productive while in self-quarantine — after all, magazines tell us, we now have so much extra time on our hands — can lead to self-judgement and shame.
The truth is, most working people don’t have more free time on their hands — and if we do, we may have more severe concerns, like childcare, than learning how to make the perfect sourdough. As Jessica Bloom writes, we don’t have to be more productive during quarantine. If you’re overwhelmed or your health is vulnerable, you shouldn’t feel any obligation to do more than simply take care of yourself and your loved ones. Remember that self-care is community care, for the simple fact that you are a valuable member of your community and your well-being matters to all.
If, however, you’re looking to feel more connected, to meet your own needs while helping others, or to regain feelings of purpose, taking action to help your community is a beautiful step. Viruses are inherently collective, passing from body to body, and yet staggering social inequalities in the U.S. mean that some folks are feeling the strain more than others right now. Reaching out, even from our couches, helps correct these inequalities, ensuring that every single one of us has access to resources, solidarity, and support.