Won’t You Be My (Distant) Neighbor?
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Fred Rogers
In this unprecedented time in our lives experiencing a pandemic, we are forced to re-evaluate how we proceed in doing everyday things. Social distancing is the complete opposite of what it means to be a “southerner”. We’re used to having large social gatherings, talking to everyone at the grocery store, chatting on our porches with neighbors, attending church services, festivals, sporting events, and concerts. In the Florida panhandle, our everyday life consists of enjoying the beach, boating, and fishing. Being outdoors and surrounded by people is the norm in our community. But now, the beaches, restaurants, bars, fishing piers, outdoor venues, libraries, schools, and churches are closed. This hasn’t stopped our community from finding unique ways to still be neighborly – at a distance.
Our restaurants and bars have taken a huge hit during this crisis. Many individuals have had their hours cut or lost their jobs altogether. To combat this problem, our local bar and restaurant owners have begun to sell their inventory in front of their locations. In times when items are hard to come by at the grocery store, they are selling meat, vegetables, cleaning, and bathroom supplies. Some restaurants are making bloody Mary and mimosa kits to be picked up curbside. Bakeries are selling cupcake kits. (To give the kids something to do while the parents are enjoying bloody Marys and mimosas, I suppose?) The locally owned restaurants are even offering free lunches to children 18 and under who would normally be in school. A local favorite taco stand is selling $1 quarantine tacos every day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and has a “Gratitude Forward” link on its website to buy a box of tacos for a random person who may be displaced during this crisis. Special Facebook pages are being created by our local Chamber to let people know which restaurants are selling inventory, pre-packaged meals, or have delivery available.
Inspired by the Italians serenading each other, our neighbors have also re-created that with a southern charm. People are taking to their porches and playing music, live or recorded, so those walking by can be entertained. Maps are even being created on Facebook so people know which porches to visit from afar. To help entertain children, a “bear hunt” has been created. Neighbors are putting stuffed bears and other toys in their windows for children to spot when taking walks outside with their parents. The little libraries are being filled with pantry items and neighbors are putting tables on the street filled with free supplies. Small lawn parties are being set up with chairs six feet apart so neighbors can still visit with each other, with Lysol available on each table. Neighbors are setting up hand-washing stations at their fences, and in turn, the city is setting up hand-washing stations for the homeless.
I believe these acts of kindness and generosity are what Mr. Rogers’ mom was referring to when seeking the “helpers.” We don’t know how long we’ll have to endure social distancing, but we’re coming together as a community to add some brightness to this dark time. When the restrictions are lifted, I hope we all remember the “helpers” and carry this behavior forward into our future.
So, if you see me on my porch, please stop and say hello – but please stay on the sidewalk when you do.
By: Cecily Chundrlek