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COVID Quarantine: What’s a Neighbor to Do?

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The need for physical distancing (six feet or more) during the COVID pandemic has limited summertime community celebrations in a big way. Parades and street fairs were cancelled. No Seafair hydro races this year! Night Out Against Crime, a long-standing annual event celebrated in many cities in King County that brings neighbors together to build a stronger sense of community, was cancelled this year. Yet there are more studies and more news stories about the risk of social isolation now than ever before. All of this leaves people saying, “What’s a neighbor to do?!”

When Seattle Police Department called off their traditional Night Out offering (e.g., authorizing temporary street closures) due to the quarantine, they offered some excellent suggestions:

  • Host a virtual Night Out event and invite all neighbors to participate by sharing their favorite summer recipe.
  • Organize a virtual neighborhood scavenger hunt or trivia night with prizes.
  • Arrange regular and crucial neighborhood conversations through technology and social media.
  • Schedule a neighborhood clean-up with appropriate personal protective equipment and social distancing.

That prompted a search for other creative ways that neighbors can stay connected and support each other during the pandemic. Several months ago, the City of Seattle launched the Seattle Together initiative as a way to connect community during the COVID-19 pandemic. The website is chock full of inspiration, with dozens of examples of ways that Seattle community members continue to make a difference. On social media, stories and photos are tagged #SeattleTogether to share inspiration.

In March, Seattle Arts and Cultural Affairs helped amplify (literally) #MakeAJoyfulNoise, in which neighbors make a joyful racket at 8 p.m. sharp. Neighbors have been known to sing, blow horns, drum, hit pots and pans together, and more. Some Seattleites participate every evening, others on occasion, and the joyful noise continues to recognize front-line workers in the fight against COVID-19. At the same time, #MakeAJoyfulNoise says “we’re still here—come outdoors and join in!”

The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods was a logical place to look next. Their annual Neighbor Day celebration in May was smaller this year, due to the pandemic, but the department shares good ideas of ways neighbors can thank neighbors who “indulge in random acts of kindness.” Ideas that look promising year-round, even in these times, include yard cleanups; invite a neighbor to go for a walk or a bike ride; and play a music instrument outdoors for the enjoyment of others—or sing, as one Ballard resident does every weekday.

The activities listed above tend to draw neighbors into the street or on the sidewalk, both out of curiosity and to express appreciation. Of course, all these ideas require vigilance regarding face coverings and physical distancing (six feet or more).

Other ideas have been suggested in recent weeks:

  • Set up a neighborhood “friendly phone call” service to reach out regularly to older people and others who are at higher risk of COVID complications. Alternatively, let your neighbors know about the AARP Friendly Voices service, which allows older people or their family members to schedule periodic calls.
  • Schedule neighborhood happy hours during which neighbors sit on portable chairs on their parking strip, porch, deck, balcony, or doorway, depending on the type of housing. Everyone brings their beverage of choice and catches up with neighbors from a distance.
  • Invite your neighbors to a periodic video conference event. There are many platform options but, for example, Zoom is free for 40 minutes when there’s a group of three or more, and still unlimited for a video call between two people. See Using Technology to Stay Social While Physically Distancing (AgeWise King County) and How to Use Zoom to Stay Connected During the Coronavirus (AARP).
  • Connect online with neighbors who share your special interests. If an unstructured online conversation isn’t your cup of tea, invite neighbors who like to—you name it, knit, sew, cook, read, exercise, travel—to a video conference event (Zoom or other platform) to share recent discoveries and ideas for the future.
  • Set up a neighborhood Facebook group. Whoever launches and maintains the group can limit membership to people who live within a specific geographic area (e.g., your block) or who have a specific special interest. See Harness the Power of Groups to Build Community (Facebook) for more information.
  • If you like to garden, hold a curbside plant or flower give-away. Gardening is America’s favorite pastime. When it’s time to divide perennials, pot up extras and put them out on the curb. Same goes for an abundance of flowers—who wouldn’t enjoy a free bouquet? Put them in water (an old jar or watertight plastic bag held tight with a rubber band would do). Let your neighbors know they’re free for the taking.

For even more ideas, see how many local residents have responded to the COVID pandemic by helping others, in the Stepping Up features published by the Seattle Times. And if you want to recommend a neighbor-friendly community-building activity, please feel free to share on Aging and Disability Services social media (@AgingKingCounty). We would love to hear from you!

Contributor Irene Stewart manages communications for Aging and Disability Services and is editor of AgeWise King County.

Seattle Neighborhood Matching Fund workshops in August

Seattle community and neighborhood groups (or you and a small band of neighbors) who have ideas for public projects but need funding can explore the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods’ popular Neighborhood Matching Fund program. The program is relaunching after a pause in funding cycles due to COVID-19. Applications are now available for the program’s Community Partnership Fund, which provides up to $50,000 to support community-building projects in Seattle’s neighborhoods.

Virtual workshops in August will provide an overview of the Neighborhood Matching Fund, the qualities of a strong application, and the review process. Project managers can answer questions and offer suggestions to help you succeed in your application. The workshop dates and times are:

  • Wednesday, August 5, 2020 (6–7:30 p.m.)
  • Saturday, August 15, 2020 (10–11 a.m.)

For registration and log-on information, click here.

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