Creative ways to bring joy to your neighborhood while social distancing

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April 24, 2020
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Creative ways to bring joy to your neighborhood while social distancing

There’s been no shortage of news about the widespread suffering caused by the coronavirus and the shutdown that’s defined it. Tensions are high, supplies are hard to come by, and money is tight. People are frustrated and frightened for their health, for their elderly or vulnerable loved ones, and for their checking accounts.

If anyone’s looking for bad news, they won’t have to look far to find it. But among the avalanche of stories that are sad, scary, ugly, or maddening, a few steady glimmers of light have endured. Around America, and the world, neighbors and neighborhoods have resisted the urge to wallow and instead used the shutdown as an opportunity to engage, inspire, help, and connect with their fellow shut-ins.

Some are solo acts of inspiration, others well-coordinated stunts clearly designed with social media in mind. Many are spontaneous gestures that went viral and sparked movements, but plenty of others are born out of old-fashioned neighborly goodwill. From young children to the very old, people around the world have used their imaginations, creativity, skills, talents, and sometimes even their pets to try to help their neighbors find the silver lining.

Using information from a variety of sources including news articles and reports of viral social media activity, Stacker came up with a list of ideas that almost anyone can use to find some good in a bad situation within their own neighborhoods.

Some ideas are more suited for the city, others the suburbs, but the vast majority can apply to most people in most situations. Some take place at a safe distance outside, others use technology to connect families and groups from afar. They involve everything from art and education to reading and wine, but every idea that made it onto the list has the potential to unite, to inspire, and to uplift now that neighbors have to reconsider what it means to be neighborly.

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Turn sidewalks into artwork

One mother in Chicago dazzled her neighbors by using sidewalk chalk to turn the pavement outside her home into elaborate works of art. Regular residents don’t have to be Monet or Dalí, however, to brighten things up—a doodle, a drawing, or a happy message will be more than enough to lift local spirits.

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Host a front yard concert

In Florida, young members of the Tallahassee Youth Orchestra gathered their instruments and staged an impromptu concert outside the home of their elderly neighbors—at a safe distance, of course. Not everyone has their own cello, upright bass, or violin, but that’s okay. Anyone can spread joy through music, no matter how amateurish their attempts may be.

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Keep elderly neighbors in mind

Seniors are far more vulnerable to COVID-19 than the general population, and the isolation of self-quarantining can have devastating effects on their mental and physical health even if they aren’t infected. One of the best things any friend, neighbor, or family member can do is check in on older folks regularly, leave a warm note in their mailboxes, send a text, or ask them for a list if you’re venturing out to the store.

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Get together at a distance

People shouldn’t hug their neighbors, shake their hands, or get in their personal space, but they don’t have to stop being neighborly. It’s perfectly okay to chat and trade stories at a safe distance, from across the street, or from porch to porch.

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Host a neighborhood Zoom meetup

One brand that has benefited from the lockdown is Zoom, which offers free video conferencing software that schools all over have adopted as their go-to choice for distance learning—but it’s not just useful for academia. Zoom created a special page just for people looking to get the most use out of the platform during the lockdown. Anyone can quickly learn how to schedule digital meetups with their neighbors so they can get together even when they’re apart.

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Give things that matter

Supplies are tight for many critical products like gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper. People with a surplus might be inclined to hoard, but for anyone with extra, the neighborly thing to do is check to see if anyone on the block is critically low—particularly the elderly or those with children—and share the wealth at a time when doing the right thing isn’t easy.

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Get in the Christmas spirit

It’s nearing the opposite side of the calendar year from Christmas, but that hasn’t stopped legions of quarantine shut-ins from breaking out the holiday lights and decorations. The winter holidays are a time of joy, and just because it’s out of season doesn’t mean you can’t brighten up your block—literally and figuratively—by getting in the Christmas spirit in April or May.

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Schedule a happy hour

With bars closed and liquor stores open, many people are sharing the impromptu happy hours they’ve been scheduling with their neighbors. They make their own drinks and socialize at a distance since cocktails don’t require close-quarters contact to work their magic.

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Host a dance party

Others have tweeted videos or scheduled lawn-to-lawn dance parties. All it takes is a text thread to schedule a time with neighbors, some music, and bodies in motion.

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Send a message

Across the country and the world, signs are springing up on houses, apartment buildings, and businesses everywhere. Some are written on sheets, others on posterboard, others on the structures themselves—but all are meant to uplift and inspire. Words like “hope” and “love” make simple statements, while phrases like “stay healthy” and “we will get by” offer inspirational sentiments.

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Thank those who can’t stay home

Others are using handmade signs to show their love and gratitude to the people whose work continues to give life a semblance of normalcy during the shutdown. From garbage collectors and letter carriers to delivery people and grocery clerks, some workers are so critical that they can’t stay home. A message of gratitude would certainly be welcome by all of them.

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Make a rainbow

Across the world, the rainbow has emerged as a nearly universal symbol of hope during the lockdown. Children especially have been drawing the colorful arcs and placing them in windows to spread joy, inspire, and create a sense of solidarity.

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Give a shout-out to frontline workers

For the cops, firefighters, and especially health-care workers who risk their own lives every day trying to manage the crisis, even the smallest modicum of gratitude can go a long way. Signs, shrines, and makeshift messages are popping up on lawns and porches across the world—and anyone can show their thanks by making their own display.

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Host an online dinner party

While you can’t share your dinner table with your neighbors, you can enjoy dinner time together. Some people are passing the time by using Zoom or a similar platform to eat dinner with their neighbors without actually eating dinner with their neighbors.

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Walk your dog in style

One woman in the U.K. has been spreading joy and keeping things interesting by walking her dog every day while maintaining appropriate social distance. The caveat, however, is that she takes her daily walk while decked out in elaborate and outrageous costumes.

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Get your pets in the spirit

In Newfoundland, another animal lover turns the costume-clad tables. Instead of dressing up himself, he decks out his dog in a new, increasingly interesting costume every day of the lockdown.

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Throw a modified block party

Residents of one neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, didn’t let the lockdown stop them from throwing a block-party bash. Everyone on the street came outdoors, set up chairs, tables, games, and drink stands and partied hard all day long—at a safe distance.

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Make and distribute masks

The CDC and other organizations have posted detailed instructions on how to make homemade masks. Anyone who has the time and the tools can make masks for everyone on the block and hand them out to their grateful neighbors.

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Host a digital movie night

Movie buffs can share a flick with their neighbors without inviting them into their living rooms. Services like Netflix Party let users stream digital content with groups simultaneously while adding a chat room into the mix. Hundreds of thousands of users are now watching movies together with people while they’re apart.

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Work out

Anyone who has neighbors who bond in fitness can stick to a routine with synchronized workouts. Lawns help, but they aren’t necessary. One trainer in Spain, for example, is leading workouts from his rooftop while people in the apartments across the street join in from their balconies.

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Send flowers

Flowers have long served as symbols of hope and friendship, and a new bouquet craze is spreading on social media. The virus lockdown has been especially hard on family-owned flower farms, and people are responding by purchasing bouquets for the whole neighborhood. For their efforts, they get to support local businesses while also giving the gift of flowers in springtime while people are largely cut off from nature.

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Plant a solidarity flower

Money is tight and most people are likely not in the market for large orders of expensive bouquets, but that’s not the only option for harnessing flower power during the lockdown. Neighbors across the street or across the fire escape can plant the same flower in solidarity.

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Start a book club

Book clubs choose a new book every week—or month or whatever frequency works best for the group—read it independently among its members, then meet up periodically to discuss what they read. During the lockdown, a group of bookworm neighbors can enjoy the exact same experience. The only difference is the meetup part takes place online instead of in a living room—apps like Bookclubz are helping thousands do just that.

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Start a chess tournament

Another intellectually stimulating way to pass the time is to organize a chess tournament among neighbors. Here, too, there’s no need to play face-to-face. Sites like Chess Multiplayer let anyone organize real-time multiplayer chess tournaments online.

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Take a course together

Anyone looking to use this time to better themselves could consider urging their neighbors to join them in enrolling in a free online class. Sites like Edx.org offer thousands of courses from top universities like MIT and Harvard.

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Have a wine tasting

Wineries around the country are adapting to the lockdown by updating the classic wine tasting for the digital age. For a fee, a group of neighbors can sign up for a package that includes several bottles of wine and a virtual meeting with a winery rep.

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Tour a national park

The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks is an amazing online offering from the U.S. Parks Service that allows people to follow park rangers on tours of America’s greatest natural treasures from the comfort of their laptops. A group of neighbors can choose a destination from Alaska’s Kenai Fjords to New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns and head out to explore—without actually heading out.

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Share a special talent

One woman is making the most of the crisis by using her status as a certified yoga instructor to share her talents by hosting virtual classes with her neighbors. From drawing and painting to music lessons and crafting, any skill or talent that can be shared with neighbors through online sessions can foster unity and help pass the time creatively.

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Compete in trivia challenge

Sites like QuizUp allow remote groups to compete in custom-designed trivia challenges. There are more than 1,200 topics and more than 600,000 questions so it never gets old. Neighbors can choose to play only among themselves—or with the world.

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Have a game night

Board games have long been a staple for cooped-up families passing long periods of time together at home. Apps like Tabletopia let anyone get in on the action from wherever they are. Groups of homebound neighbors can choose from hundreds of games and, just like with trivia challenges, they can keep their game nights closed or invite other players from around the world.

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