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Preparedness expert: We need to rely on each other

By Kiana Kabanje
Disaster Preparedness Outreach Program Manager

Although the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order earlier this year was an uncomfortable mandate for many, one Bellingham neighborhood turned it into a friendly competition. In early March, many households in Washington made “one last trip” to the grocery stores to stock up on food and supplies before the COVID-19 pandemic bowling-balled its way through society. In the following weeks, folks found themselves making a trip to the store for simply one or two items. A group of five households in the Bellingham area noticed this trend and talked about it during a virtual bingo night they had created to stay in touch during the pandemic. As a group, the neighbors decided they wanted to limit these unnecessary trips to the store, so they created a competition – which household could go the longest without stepping foot into a store?

Competition Rules:

  • No member of the household can step foot into a store
  • If anyone does step foot into a store, they are out of the competition
  • If a household falls out of the competition, the whole family must dance in the street to show the neighbors that they lost
  • Takeout and delivery services from stores are acceptable

As weeks passed from spring into early summer, families began succumbing to the need to visit a store and would admit defeat by dancing in the neighborhood street for everyone to see. With more time passing, the competition became even more intense. Families who were out of the challenge would make shopping trips on behalf of families who were still competing. Even this tactic supported the intent of the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order by limiting the number of people moving around in the community. By the end of May, two families were still active in the competition and sharing their shopping requests with the other neighbors who had lost.

Even the best intentions sometimes don’t work as planned. One day in late May, one of the final two families had to visit a hardware store to purchase a new toilet handle to replace theirs which had broken. As the father of the household drove back from the store, he told his wife and kids to start working on their dancing routine so they could practice when everyone got home.

There are many lessons and inspiring moments seen during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although people had the ability to video chat with friends and family before being homebound, most didn’t. Groups of neighbors could have had game nights prior to this pandemic, but many did not. Families could have made shopping trips on behalf of others, but it was not common. Life as we once knew it has changed. Before your next shopping trip, consider texting a few friends, relatives or neighbors to ask if you can pick anything up for them. You may even learn about a friend’s quirky food craving or have a laugh over a neighbor’s random shopping list.

This Bellingham neighborhood not only knows how to make a difficult situation positive but has also become a safe haven for nature. In the midst of their friendly competition, one neighbor noticed a pregnant doe wandering around the community. Later into the challenge, one family found the newborn fawn on their porch. Since this discovery, neighbors have observed the momma deer safely leaving her baby on the porch and returning to it in the evening for three consecutive days. The family placed cones and a sign on the front lawn asking delivery services to not disturb the front porch. Maybe nature can remind us of the importance of taking care of each other.

Looking for more inspiration on how to connect with your neighbors? Grab your roller blades or skateboard and turn your street’s sidewalk into a roller rink. Then, invite your neighbors (and their helmets) to join! If there are lots of kids in your area, ask a couple of them to color the sidewalk with chalk, marking sections of sidewalk as “dancing zones” or “silly walking zones.” When your neighborhood conversation naturally turns to the current disaster, have a discussion about your family’s emergency plan and how you could support each other if there were to be a home fire or other disaster. And don’t forget to wash your hands and wear a mask.

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