‘Time to support each other’

 ... the community groups fighting panic with kindness

Community workers with One Good Street (Image: supplied)

There seems to be another contagion sweeping through communities and social networks, and community worker Rebecca Gelsi has come down with a chronic dose of it.

A major symptom: heroic acts of kindness.

Even as rampaging coronavirus anxiety was igniting stockpiling raids on supermarket aisles, Gelsi felt moved this weekend to leave a couple of spare rolls of toilet paper on her picket fence for the convenience of any neighbours caught short. 

Community worker Rebecca Gelsi fliers her neighbourhood (Image: Supplied)

She then settled down at her computer to put the finishing touches on a flyer for distribution in nearby streets. She managed to crank out 20 copies before the home printer ran out of ink, and will push out some more when she gets to the office today.

“Time to support each other,” reads the headline. “Let’s go against the fear and share resources and encouragement.” 

Gelsi is part of a growing online campaign pushing similarly subversive messages of generosity through her neighbourhood Facebook group. And, after realising that many of the most vulnerable and isolated members of her community were likely locked out of these virtual support networks, she’s also gone the extra mile with an old school letterbox drop.

“I knew you can reduce fear and uncertainty through community support,” says Gelsi, who is acting manager of West Footscray Neighbourhood House. “Knowing you have your neighbours backing you up makes a huge difference.”

She’s no isolated case. As public concern about COVID-19 deepens, social networks — virtual and real — are pushing the mantra of “love thy neighbour” and connectedness as powerful antidotes to “every man for himself”. Just take a look at the locked-down Italian communities singing from their balconies.

In Australia, neighbourhood social media networks are reporting a surge in membership and activity over the past couple of weeks, and pro-forma versions of Gelsi’s flyer are being widely shared to help people identify and support each other offline. 

The Good Karma Network, which has dozens of Facebook groups covering suburbs across Melbourne’s north and west, has been flooded with thousands of posts from people offering household supplies and help with shopping as people with symptoms have locked down. 

The network’s founder, Amy Churchouse, said many people are also using the platforms to find safe ways to just connect to each other as infection control strategies of social distancing and isolation ramp up.

“Some people are in need of material support and some just want to talk, but there’s a sense that we’re going to be okay because we are looking out for each other,” says Churchouse.

Coronavirus has not only kicked up momentum and energy on established neighbourhood networks, but appears to be seeding a range of new initiatives. 

The Facebook groups Love your neighbour Melbourne – COVID-19 inspired local connections and Northside Melbourne / Naarm CoronaVirus Outreach were both created on Friday and already have thousands of members offering everything from hand sanitiser to free child care.

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By Benjamin Silvester
(Source: crikey.com.au; March 17, 2020; https://www.crikey.com.au/?p=706787)
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