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Fred Rogers has gotten a lot of attention in the past year or so. With the release of the documentary about his life, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Tom Hanks playing him in the film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the beloved children’s TV host and his messages of kindness and acceptance resonate still today.
Maybe especially so. The recent emphasis on Mr. Rogers’ legacy provides a fitting backdrop for our current times. As social distancing keeps us farther apart physically, we are more in need of neighborly connections than ever before.
As a result, neighbors everywhere are stepping in and up, nearing one another emotionally while respecting necessary spatial boundaries.
While Zoom, Skype and other online technologies are bringing friends, family and co-workers together in record numbers across the world, those who live nearest to us are reaching out in ways that are both deeply heartwarming and wonderfully innovative.
Windows and sidewalks cheer walkers and bicyclists with encouraging messages, pictures, drawings, waving teddy bears, cascading hearts. One family placed copies of a hopeful poem in a holder that would normally be used for home sale flyers.
Beyond signs and sayings, neighbors are also reaching out in truly substantial ways.
Anecdotes from the neighborhood social network Nextdoor are genuinely inspiring. One person offered to give neighbors who are short on money $20 via electronic transfer, “no questions asked.” This generous neighbor has given hundreds of dollars to local respondents.
A bistro owner in San Francisco is offering full-meal boxed lunches and dinners to nearby residents every day for only $5.50, which covers expenses only and garners no profit.
Many people in neighborhoods across the country are organizing food drives for overtaxed local pantries, patronizing small businesses (and tipping generously), fostering pets in nearby shelters, giving blood, shopping and delivering goods to single or elderly residents, and reaching out to them via phone, video conferencing, and even cards and letters in the U.S. mail.
One woman in the U.K. went a step further and created a postcard for neighbors reading “Hello! If you are self-isolating, I can help.” The postcard includes space for people to fill in their contact information and convey their specific needs.
These intentional acts of kindness have generated neighborly connections that may never have happened in less challenging times. “I feel like I know my neighbors better than ever!” said one woman who’s lived in her Chicago suburban village for over 30 years.
In nearby Batavia, a family turned on their dazzling Christmas light show again in April to bring cheer to passing neighbors. Putting on multiple shows per night for 10 cars at a time, area residents can enjoy the sparkle from a safe distance.
At GreenFields of Geneva, our residents were delighted to receive Easter gift baskets from moms in the nearby Mill Creek neighborhood. They generously donated $600 to bring a smile to our faces! These neighbors and others are also participating in our popular pen pal program that recently made local TV news.
Every day for over 30 years, Fred Rogers asked viewers of his show, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” During these tough times and always, let our answer be a resounding “Yes!”