COVID-19 has affected the way we think about many things – how we shop for groceries, how often we wash our hands, and how we go about our workday, to name a few. For some Mesa County residents, the coronavirus has also influenced how they think about community, and the importance of neighborhood connections.
“We don’t have any reason not to be helping,” said Kristin Lynch, a Grand Junction resident. “That’s just what community is.”
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Lynch, her husband Sean and their three teenage children knew that the stay-at-home precautions might be especially hard on the mostly retired residents of their neighborhood. They quickly typed up a note with an offer of help and their contact information, then put one on each neighbor’s door or mailbox.
“We thought it was a good way for [our neighbors] to know we’re here and we’re always able to help,” she said, especially since the family still hadn’t met many of the people who live nearby, after moving in about a year ago. Although some neighbors have taken them up on their offer to help, even more have reached out to thank the Lynches and introduce themselves – a connection that, given the family’s hectic schedule, may have taken much longer under typical circumstances.
“These are unprecedented times, but it doesn’t really matter. These things still need to happen,” Lynch explained. “It’s important to show our kids that this isn’t hard, and this is only going to lead to greater things.”
Bruce Noble, the president of the homeowners’ association (HOA) in The Seasons neighborhood, said his community responded similarly. The HOA sent an email to all residents early on, asking people to reach out if they have needs or if they are available to help.
In a time when even a simple unmet need can be a source of stress, these neighborhood connections may be more important than ever. Noble shared the story of a man in the neighborhood who, despite his and his wife’s careful quarantining, became sick. When his wife realized they did not have a thermometer and she could not track one down in local stores, a neighbor simply dropped her extra one off on their doorstep. The man was able to confirm his fever, moved to self-isolation, and he and his wife emerged healthy afterward.
Some neighborhood efforts, like the Clifton Community Outreach (CCO) team, existed before COVID-19, but the virus has influenced how they function. The CCO team, with support from statewide foundation The Colorado Trust and in partnership with a coalition of community organizations called the Community Transformation group, works alongside other neighborhood residents to create positive community change. Previous projects have included an October 2019 community cleanup that collected 140 tons of trash from a one-square-mile neighborhood.
Since the outbreak started, CCO’s usual process of face-to-face conversations and neighborhood meetings has been put on hold. However, they still want to hear from neighbors about their ideas for the community, so have shifted to mostly phone calls for their outreach.
According to CCO member Kim McMurtrey, the group is available to help connect neighborhood residents with community resources, or assist them directly if they can. The CCO and several Community Transformation partners were also recently awarded a grant to offer emergency food delivery in the Clifton area, for people who are unable to leave their homes to shop or get to food pantries on their own.
Although it’s not the CCO’s creation, team member Elizabeth Christensen points to the Grand Junction Mutual Aid Facebook group as one of the most encouraging, community-minded developments she has seen during the COVID-19 outbreak. The group, now more than 14,000 strong, allows members to post about their needs, information on resources, and items they are willing to share.
“I’m hoping that with everything that has happened people will see they’re not the only ones struggling,” Christensen said. “I hope there is a sense of solidarity, that we’re all in this together, and if something like this were to happen again it won’t be so scary because we can get through it together.”