Whatever your neighborhood once looked like on a spring day, there’s a good chance it hasn’t looked that way for quite some time now, as the coronavirus has altered the landscape of communities around the country (and world). As such, it’s more important than ever to find ways to safely support your neighbors and community.
Within a given neighborhood, the coronavirus is likely hitting residents in different ways: Older people might be grappling with loneliness, working parents might be buckling under a near-impossible workload, while some neighbors might be grieving the loss of a loved one. And for many, the coronavirus’ spread and its consequent closures have brought on extreme economic hardship, which is likely impacting the local businesses that make your neighborhood what it is. With a staggering amount of people filing for unemployment, it’s also likely that some of your neighbors are struggling to afford basic needs, like rent and groceries.
Here’s the issue though: Now is not the time for a get-to-know-you dinner party with those in your building or on your block, since the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention have thus far found the virus to spread primarily from person-to-person. That makes reaching out to your neighbors especially tricky right now — and there’s a good chance you don’t even know them: The texture of neighborhoods across the U.S. has changed throughout the last few decades, with more and more people living alone and a third of Americans reporting never having interacted with their neighbors.
And if you already do know your neighbors, it’s likely you weren’t communicating online very often before the coronavirus took hold: Pew Research Center found in 2018 that “Americans who know at least some of their neighbors are more than twice as likely to say they have face-to-face conversations with them several times a week (20%) than over the phone or by email or text message (7% each).”
This puts all good neighbors (and aspiring good neighbors) in a similar bind: How do you offer support to those around you, when they’re not actually, you know, physically around you?
Like so much of the world right now, helping neighbors at this moment is likely going to require moving some activities online. Mashable spoke with Prakash Janakiraman, co-founder and chief architect at Nextdoor, and Naomi Gleit, vice president of product at Facebook, about how to best support neighbors using each platform. They’re not the only digital tools you can use to help neighbors right now — there are likely creative ways to use almost any platform to help others — but some of Janakiraman and Gleit’s updated tools can fulfill specific neighborly tasks.
Additionally, we spoke with Sam Addeo and Peter Maccario, community moderators with Greenpoint Community Strong, a communication platform within North Brooklyn Mutual Aid Network, to explain how they’ve used Slack to organize in their community. (Mutual aid refers to the practice of exchanging and distributing resources for the mutual benefit of a given group.)
In general, representatives from all platforms (as well as Addeo and Maccario) advised those looking to help out neighbors to keep their own safety and comfort level in mind, both as it relates to coronavirus prevention and personal safety. As such, you shouldn’t feel obligated to offer help that you personally feel uncomfortable giving.
Here’s how to use those platforms to help neighbors at this isolating and uncertain time.
Though Nextdoor is all about neighborhoods year-round, in response to what it’s seen people doing to help others amid the early stages of the coronavirus, the platform unveiled two new tools that might streamline the process of offering help to neighbors. Janakiraman walked us through how to use them to support those in your community.
First, there’s Help Map, which allows you to see an interactive map of your neighborhood and mark yourself as someone willing to offer support. Other neighbors can then also view the map, and identify who’s offering and requesting help at the moment. (Your name, home location, and profile picture will be added to the map.) Those in need of help can then privately message those offering on the platform.
After adding yourself to the map, using it efficiently will take two main steps, Janakiraman notes. To begin, though offering a specific form of assistance, like grocery runs, is optional, it’s likely going to be helpful to do so when your neighbors come looking for help with a specific task. With that in mind, Janakiraman suggests thinking deeply about the kind of support you might be able to offer.
To that point, there are some tasks that seem especially useful, based on what Janakiraman’s team has seen thus far:
Offering regular check-ins (via phone, email, or through Nextdoor) to elderly neighbors and those with underlying conditions
Volunteering to run errands, such as grocery or medicine runs, for those that cannot
“As more people experience [assistance like this], neighbors get to know one another, and trust one another,” Janakiraman said. “Most people don’t know their neighbors. This huge uptick [in usage] has trended towards helpfulness and kindness.”
After establishing what kind of help you might be able to offer, Janakiraman notes that the second step is calibrating your own comfort level when offering (or receiving) help. With help that involves going outside, or to potentially crowded spaces like grocery stores, Janakiraman stresses that you need to take stock of what is both safe and reasonable for you to do.
To this end, Janakiraman also recommends Nextdoor Groups, in which members on the platform can build community online in order to connect outside of answering immediate requests for aid. This allows users to form groups within the radius of your neighborhood, nearby neighborhoods, or on a city-wide scale.
If you’re trying to think of what sorts of groups might be useful, Janakiraman cites the following as examples:
Parenting Groups, to share tips about parenting and childcare amid school closures
Volunteering Groups, where you can post about opportunities to donate to local food banks or nonprofits
Activity-based groups, such as book clubs or cooking groups, that can establish virtual ways to engage in hobbies and interests
In some cases, like when making a group for neighborhood-specific volunteer opportunities, it might be helpful to keep the group within your neighborhood, while in other instances, like starting a virtual book club, it could be beneficial to cast a wider net.
“In this time, it’s clear that people are acclimating to being in their local communities,” Janakiraman said. “Neighbors [are getting] to know each other, trust one another, and use each other [as resources.]”
To help neighbors on Facebook, you’re going to want to turn to an older feature that’s being used in a new way.
For context: Facebook initially launched a feature called Community Help in 2016 as part of its Crisis Response features. Once Facebook is informed of an incident by a global crisis reporting agency, the platform typically launches a Crisis Response page particular to an impacted location, usually once it becomes clear that people are talking about the incident within the area. The page then unlocks certain features for those nearby, such as “Safety Check,” in which individuals are able to mark themselves “Safe,” and Community Help, where people can request or offer help.
Usually, only those in the affected area are able to post or comment in Community Help, in order to connect with each other, while supporters from afar can access the page to view, react to, and share posts.
This the first time, however, that Facebook has activated it globally to address an unprecedented health pandemic like coronavirus, Gleit notes. You can access the coronavirus roll out of Community Help here.
So, how can you use it to support your neighbors? Like Nextdoor’s updated tools, Community Help’s current rollout allows you to request or offer help to those nearby. You can set the radius between 5, 10, 25, and 50 miles from your location. (Depending on the radius you set, this could include more than just your neighbors.)
Within Community Help, you can give help by responding to posts asking for specific requests, or you can make a post detailing the help that you’re able to offer. To find help, you can search for a specific need, such as someone donating currently hard-to-find supplies, or you can create a post to ask for the help you need.
A Facebook representative detailed the following trends among Community Help requests and offers thus far, which might help you decide what to extend to neighbors:
Requests: Supplies (like hand sanitizer, toilet paper, baby supplies), food, and information (such as information about unemployment support)
Offers: Food, volunteering (like running errands for the elderly), and supplies (such as making homemade face masks, or donating toilet paper or hand sanitizer)
As the coronavirus continues to spread, many offers and requests have concerned immediate health, safety, and wellness needs, like those above, Gleit notes. She points out, though, that neighbors and communities will still require assistance after social distancing measures are over, as small businesses try to get off their feet and people adjust to a changed neighborhood landscape.
“A crisis has different stages,” Gleit said. “The most difficult for a community is after the crisis, and that’s when there’s not as much attention.”
Community Help works well for these issues, too. You can use it to find more tools that can help your broader neighborhood weather the pandemic — and emerge intact as a community after. Unlike directly requesting or offering help to neighbors, these features allow for more direct assistance to beloved neighborhood institutions, like local businesses and nonprofits.
With the features, you can:
Locate nearby blood banks to then see if they’re open (within a 50 mile radius on the mobile version of Community Help only), and sign up to donate blood
Look for fundraisers for local nonprofits happening on Facebook for your community (within a 50 mile radius), which you can then donate to or share
Buy gift cards for local businesses, which appear on Community Help based on your location (within a 50 mile radius on the mobile version of Community Help only)
Discover job opportunities within the community, a function that informs you of jobs from local businesses that are actively hiring (within a 50 mile radius)
Gleit has found the support she’s seen offered on Community Help heartening, and hopes everyone understands there’s a way for them to help others at this time.
“We’re seeing the best of people, and of communities,” Gleit said. “The truth is everyone has something to offer.”
You might know Slack as the place you share random memes with coworkers — ahem, I mean, message your manager about upcoming deadlines.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, though, a host of neighborhood specific Slack workplaces have popped up, with many focused on organizing mutual aid responses within communities.
Though a Slack spokesperson told Mashable over email that Slack is “a business tool and is primarily focused on supporting teams adjusting to the remote work during the COVID-19 crisis,” the spokesperson notes Slack is pleased that neighborhood groups are finding Slack useful at this time. While the spokesperson maintained that Slack doesn’t offer official guidance for setting up neighborhood workplaces, Mashable spoke with two Brooklyn-based organizers, Addeo and Maccario of the Slack workplace Greenpoint Community Strong, to explain what worked best for them and their community.
Maccario initially set up the workplace for his Brooklyn neighborhood, Greenpoint, after seeing Slack workplaces work well for community organizers in Bed-Stuy, another Brooklyn neighborhood. Unlike Nextdoor and Facebook, information about a neighborhood Slack workplace won’t immediately become apparent for those in a particular geographic area. In order to join, you’d have to already know about the workplace.
When you make a Slack workplace with the free version of Slack, you get a shareable link associated with the workplace, which Maccario notes was important for getting the word out: He shared Greenpoint’s link on his own social media, and then posted information about it throughout the community as well, such as on posters and flyers.
Crucially, according to Addeo and Maccario, a popular website in the neighborhood also shared information about the Slack workplace, which helped them to garner hundreds of members. They suggest similar methods for trying to get the word out: Post it around the neighborhood, share it on your own channels, and see if other notable neighborhood groups can boost you.
Once the workplace is set up, Maccario suggests immediately establishing guidelines on how to use the channel. For instance, he made a welcome post in the general Slack channel within the workplace (which everyone automatically joined), in which he explained some of the goals and best practices for those joining the workplace, such as fostering a collective responsibility for kindness within the space, and making sure to prioritize those who are especially vulnerable, where possible and safe. Since everyone could see that when they joined, it was easier to set a consensus about what the workplace was going to be used for within the community.
From there, Addeo and Maccario recommend starting individual channels for anticipated common needs.
In their workplace, two of the initial channels were for “Community Needs,” where people could make requests, and “Community Resources,” where people could share information about resource pages they had found, or specific resources they individually had. (They point out that more channels have since emerged within their workplace after they picked up on common topics emerging, like questions about composting.)
Maccario also notes that completing individual requests for assistance within a channel works best when using threads. (On Slack, you can start threads on individual messages in a given channel.) The reasoning there is twofold, according to Maccario. First, keeping communication on the public channel, as opposed to moving it to direct messages, will maintain some transparency, which can help to ensure safety and follow-through for requests. Second, others in the channel won’t get notifications as people coordinate the specifics of a given request.
Because those who haven’t used Slack before might not be aware of how threads work, Maccario also notes that getting people to use them could take some learning: You might try either explaining that you should communicate via thread to people when they start having long exchanges about logistics within a channel, or you could note this in the general channel, where other guidelines have previously been explained.
Finally, Addeo and Maccario note that while the Greenpoint Community Strong workplace was flooded with urgent requests, like food and PPE, when the workplace was created in March, some of those requests have tapered off, as immediate needs were met. In this sense, they suggest also using the Slack workspace to form deeper connections with neighbors.
In addition to the initial help-based channels, Maccario also set up one called “Introduce Yourself,” where people could post information about themselves and their interests.
Addeo and Maccario found this channel especially useful so that those in the neighborhood felt compelled to stay engaged with the Slack workplace outside of meeting or posting specific requests. They maintain that Slack can primarily be used as a mechanism to facilitate other community interactions, like direct aid or community Zoom calls, so Addeo and Maccario suggest proposing similar things in shared channels (with respect for the time, comfort, and willingness of others).