Staff Columnist

How socially distancing Iowans are building community during coronavirus

Mutual aid, digital organizing and restaurant gift cards

Washing your hands is one of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of disease. (Dreamstime)
Washing your hands is one of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of disease. (Dreamstime)

When the world seems scary, Fred Rogers told us, “Always look for the helpers.”

Mr. Rogers’ old quote repeatedly has been put to use as a comforting cliche, a way to channel our attention toward the good when bad things happen. But while previous news events seemed far away from most of us, this coronavirus is here in our own communities.

In a pandemic, everyone can be one of the helpers. Medical professionals and service workers deserve our greatest admiration, but each of us has an important role to play.

As coronavirus spreads and Iowans take up social distancing, telecommuting and distance learning, many of us feel frustrated and isolated. Out of that frustration, people are coming up with creative ways to lend their support.

Social media is bad for health advice, but it’s good for other things. My neighbors are using websites such as Facebook and Nextdoor to reach to each other and offer assistance to vulnerable people. Others are sharing Google Docs sign-up forms to organize supplies and potential volunteers.

While people should be wary of making unnecessary contact or visiting elderly strangers’ homes, decentralized mutual aid is a valuable resource when other support systems fail.

Work stoppages and lost earnings will have both immediate and long-lasting effects on the economy. Wage workers everywhere are already losing hours, and hundreds of layoffs have been reported across the country.

Organizations offering emergency food and financial assistance will be crucial in the coming weeks. Cash donations are much more useful than donating goods. In Eastern Iowa, we have many pantries that welcome donations, and the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program, the Feeding America affiliate serving local pantries.

We can soften the blow to the local economy by supporting local businesses.

Public health officials have not advised against food delivery, and they suspect there is low risk of transmission through food products, so order-in is one option. Some experts recommend arranging for the delivery to be left on the doorstep, so people don’t have to come into contact. In Iowa City, the Chomp delivery app is owned and operated by local restaurants.

If your favorite local businesses necessitates an in-person visit, consider calling to buy gift certificates or pay up front for commissioned work. That way, you can support them now for work they are unable to complete during the time of self-quarantines.

Iowa newspapers need your support, too. When advertisers’ get hit, so do news organizations. Our communities rely on accurate, local reporting about public health.

While The Gazette’s critical coronavirus updates are free for everyone to read online, you should support our coverage if you are able. Digital subscriptions for TheGazette.com start at 99 cents per month.

COVID-19 pandemic creates reporting challenge

If none of that appeals to you, at least you can take out some frustration on politicians. Iowans can request vote-by-mail ballots for the June 2 primary by sending a form from the Secretary of State’s office to their county auditor.

These are only a few ideas, and thoughtful do-gooders no doubt are developing many more. Individual action is not a wholesale substitute for a large-scale, institutional response, but it is a necessary complement to it.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.