Lessons from a Pandemic about Community

Posted on May 21, 2020
By Glenda Cooper

Lesson from a pandemicOver the past several weeks, as the world has been grappling with new realities, the Tamarack Institute has been listening and collecting amazing community stories. I have had the very fortunate opportunity to hear about how this pandemic has brought communities together and to observe the many resources being freely and widely shared. The sum of the amazing stories that I have come across are about the multitude of ways people are boosting each other’s morale and demonstrating solidarity. This pandemic has been a valuable teacher, bringing to light what it means to be community. I have read and been inspired by so many stories that demonstrate community as kind, generous, vibrant and resourceful. 

Community is Kind

The biggest result of the pandemic are the hundreds of thousands of random acts of kindness happening all across Canada and the world. People reaching out to complete strangers and their next door neighbours offering help, support and a smile. Some were more organized and used postcards that have their name and contact information to let people know that they are available to help. Others have created little free pantries offering sundries to those who may need them or anonymously dropped off groceries or supplies while others have organized birthday parades to bring cheer to those who’s celebrations suddenly needed to look very different. To be more inspired click here.

Community is Generous

During this time people have been actively trying to find ways of contributing to their communities. Rather than giving way to scaremongering, a movement of care-mongering has erupted. One of the ways that we have seen care-mongering take shape is through Mutual Aid groups like the one in Hamilton, ON. These mutual aid groups have been cropping up across the country, matching people who are most at-risk with others willing to help out with through running errands, daily phone call check ins, shopping or other means. This trend of care-mongering is growing, tangibly demonstrating the generosity of neighbours and the willingness and power of community to take care of each other.  People are sharing what they can from their small businesses free of charge.  Between restaurants giving out free meals to fitness instructors doing balcony classes to This pandemic has precipitated many gifts and assets to be given freely. 

Community is kindCommunity is Vibrant

The role of art has been paramount. From the inspiring videos from Italy of neighbours joining together through music to free live virtual concerts to Photographers capturing families in 'porchrait' sessions to bagpipers delighting residents at long term care facilities. From heart-felt, encouraging messages being shared through chalk art on driveways to decorating our windows. From poems about how we want to be to a talking dog offering daily inspirations. We have been reminded of the role of art to help us express ourselves, boost community morale, show solidarity and make meaning out of our shared experiences.

Community is Resourceful

With the landscape of rules, regulations, policies, precautions and practices shifting quickly and regularly, communities have been grappling with the impacts. As places where we gather have had to close their doors or sit empty new ways of staying connected and providing services have been rapidly implemented. Church services have moved online, fitness and recreation centres started offering virtual classes, and friends have gathered for online book clubs and cooking lessons. People are sharing their lessons learned and tips for operating in the virtual and remote workspace, while others are gathering and sharing information on financial relief programs. Food programs have gone mobile, delivering healthy snacks and meals to children who rely on school food programs. Businesses and community organizations are changing the way they work together to provide shelter for people living without homes, knowing that when one of us is at risk we are all at risk. A new wave of volunteers has emerged, as they do in every crisis; in this case they have helped to relieve the burden on existing volunteers.

Community is the Way Forward

As we begin to look at transitioning yet again, the temptation is to return to normal, but perhaps we should be looking at how to return to better instead. In the words of Dave Hollis, “in the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.” We have been gifted an opportunity to pause and it is worth reflecting on how we want the way forward to be. We have learned through this pandemic that community is a place of caring, generosity, and connection; when we come together and share our gifts, skills, abilities and resources, we can do more than we could have imagined. During these unprecedented times, Governments found themselves in uncharted territory while communities have embraced their nimbleness and acted quickly to support one another. We have seen Margaret Wheatley’s words in action: “whatever the problem, community is the solution.” As we look to what’s next, let’s take these inherent gifts of community forward.

The Tamarack Institute has shared some of the stories and resources in a weekly newsletter. However, there are many more examples of community at its best and the inspirations keep rolling in. We want to share these and the many resources being created with you and in so doing are proud to launch our COVID-19 & Community Building webpage. If you have any stories, tools, or examples you would like to share please send me an email!

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Community Building, Cities Deepening Community, glenda cooper, COVID-19

Glenda Cooper

By Glenda Cooper

Glenda has her Master of Arts in Community Development from the University of Victoria and brings 17 years of community development experience to the position. She has seen firsthand the magic of neighbourhoods and the power of communities. She believes wholeheartedly that communities know best what they need and how to go about making life even better for everyone. She values courageous conversations, knowing that when communities dig deep and lean into each other, new possibilities emerge.

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