How to Help Your Community During a Pandemic

An adult daughter with her arm around her senior mother.
In times, like these seniors may especially appreciate the company. Mangostar/Shutterstock

A pandemic doesn't always bring out the best in humanity.

A visit to the toilet paper aisle at your local grocery store will confirm that.

But there's a cure and it's as simple as kindness. And it starts in your community. Consider, for example, how Italians have found a way to show each other love and support in — even from quarantine — by serenading their neighbors from windowsills and balconies.

It should come as no surprise that the nation that invented la dolce far niente, or "the sweetness of doing nothing" is pretty good at keeping spirits high while anchored at home.

Maybe you're not so into belting out love songs to your neighbors. But there are plenty of other ways you can support your community — and help turn this dolce viral into a powerful affirmation of our shared humanity.

But first, a disclaimer: odds are you're not infected by the coronavirus. You're going to want to keep it that way — as you're no good to anyone in bed. So mind the rules of social distancing, which, as noted in a Johns Hopkins Medicine release, means steering clear of large gatherings, traveling only when necessary and working from home.

Seniors come first.

For senior citizens — often already isolated — social distancing can be especially debilitating. They also happen to be the group most at risk for getting the virus. Which is why, as The New York Times notes, the elderly should be a community's top priority.

What can you do? Offer to run errands for elderly neighbors. Or deliver a care package. You may even have some toilet paper to spare. But even a knock on a neighbor's door to check in or chat signals that you've got their back.

"It can be very isolating for individuals if they're staying away from the places they normally go," Herman Schaffer of the New York City Emergency Management Department, tells the Times. "Some assistance is also just community, being able to talk to someone, and connect to information."

The same goes for people with pre-existing conditions like heart disease or diabetes. They're also at higher risk of getting the coronavirus, and may need a hand picking up groceries or prescriptions. They're also the people experts most strongly advise to stay home.

If you're really worried about the virus — or simply ran out of hand sanitizer — consider, leaving a card at your neighbor's door. A UK woman has taken that idea a step further by designing a printable postcard that lets a neighbor know you're available.

"Because fear has spread so quickly, it's really important to try to spread kindness," card designer Becky Wass tells the BBC.

Social media is a great way to find out who needs you.

In troubled and stay-at-home times, social media really shines. Neighborhood Facebook groups are the places to offer your goods and services. Maybe you've got some extra hand sanitizer, or you're handy with a screwdriver.

You can also trade what you've got too much of — for something you actually need.

You might also be able to band together with neighbors to do greater good for more people — a do-good brigade, if you will. Residents associations — even dog park groups — are flush with offers to help and requests to pitch in.

There are apps too. Nextdoor, which bills itself as a hyperlocal resource, is essentially connecting people in 260,000 neighborhoods across 11 countries. Nextdoor, along with similar apps like Frolo and Kahuti, have proven invaluable in connecting neighbors in times of hurricane, flooding ... and coronavirus.

How about those small businesses?

It's hardly a surprise that recent St. Patrick's Day festivities — traditionally, a time of neighborhood-wide revelry and local bar enrichment — was a muted affair. Most cities in the U.S. and Canada strongly discourage swapping hugs and raising mugs at crowded venues.

But the virtual cancellation of St. Patrick's Day is just a drop in the proverbial bucket. In the days ahead, the coronavirus is expected to take an even heavier toll on local gathering places. Bars, restaurants, theaters, coffee shops have become the enemies of social distancing. But for how long has that barista down the street been your friend? Or the magazine seller on your block? Some businesses shutting their doors now may never open them again.

A closed sign in the window of a local business.
When local businesses close, we're all sorrier for it. robbin lee/Shutterstock

Servers are especially vulnerable.

"It's a high-turnover business — and restaurants and bars don't have huge margins — and some see periods of unemployment between gigs," opines Kelly Jane Torrance in the New York Post, under the headline, "Bartenders and restaurant servers are screwed due to coronavirus."

What can you do to help? Restaurants may not be entertaining too many diners. But carry-out and delivery options are still available. It's a good deal, all around. You don't have to cook. Your local business makes money.

Another option — for more than just restaurants — is to buy gift certificates. Again, the business gets to turn a profit in lean times. And in fatter times, you'll be able to go out and buy something nice for yourself or a friend. If you make it through these viral times with grace and kindness intact, you probably deserve it.

And when it comes to shopping, make small business a priority stop.

"Consumers have a lot of choice in this setting, whether they recognize it or not," Eileen Fischer, a marketing professor at York University's Schulich School of Business, tells Global News. "For example, fruits and vegetables, you could go and you buy those at Loblaws, or you could buy them at your local greengrocer. Maybe it's less convenient to get through your local greengrocer, but they need our business right now more than ever."

Money works too.

Hand sanitizer, a bottle of aspirin, a loaf of bread — these are all thoughtful ways to tell a neighbor you care. But in a lot of cases, what really hits the spot is a good old-fashioned greenback.

People have rent to pay. Bills are piling up. And income sources are dying up.

Shea Serrano, an author in San Antonio Texas, recently took the most direct route to helping his neighbors. Like many good social distancers, he was curled up on his couch watching TV when he came up with the idea, according to The New York Times.

Why not just offer to pay someone's bills?

"Who has a bill coming up that they're not sure they're gonna be able to pay?" he tweeted.

Needless to say, more than 10,000 retweets later, someone's bill got paid. And likely, someone else made a similar offer. And another. Kindness is the ultimate contagion.

If you're not as outgoing, you can do your part in a much more subtle way by helping those who are helping others. Food banks are in dire need these days, and Feeding America has a national fund to help. The Red Cross needs blood donations, and financial donations, too. If you want more ideas, Joanna Nesbit's How to find charities to support the things you care about is a great place to start.

Look to the trees for guidance.

Sunlight filters through trees in Alaska's Tongass National Forest. CSNafzger/Shutterstock

As writer Brian Bienkowski points out in a poignant editorial for Environmental Health News, we could learn a lot from the way the natural world deals with difficult times. Trees, for instance, support each other in lean times, sharing nutrients and pooling resources to support weaker members of the forest.

We could stand a little taller as a community if we paid more attention to where we're rooted.

"To rise to the challenge it is time to look to the trees and plants — putting aside our individualistic urges and selfishness and asking ourselves how we can contribute to the buoying of our local, regional and global community."