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COVID-19 Inspires New Opportunities to Love Neighbors

As the coronavirus pandemic produced its devastating effects around the world, a handful of neighbors in Fresno, California, decided to bring hope and love to their neighborhood. The Jackson Neighborhood of Fresno is eight blocks by twelve blocks and includes 923 homes; it sits right on the border of downtown. It’s a neighborhood with a stark dichotomy: it is home to both the wealthiest and the poorest residents of Fresno. Lawyers and federal judges live across alleys from undocumented farm workers and those who are a paycheck away from homelessness.

Yet, despite income inequality and ethnic divisions, the pandemic has acted as an equalizer in Jackson—it’s affected everybody. It’s a common denominator. But as COVID-19 cases rose in Fresno County, so also did domestic violence, crime, and mental health crises. Then, Jackson neighbors began getting sick.

Many churches moved their services online and outreach support in the neighborhood became limited. Just when it began to seem hopeless, a handful of neighbors in Jackson were inspired to innovate to survive the shelter-in-place crisis. They found ways to deliver much-needed love to their neighbors.

Many households in the Jackson Neighborhood make less than $1,000/month. In fact, most of the essential workers here are undocumented and did not receive a stimulus check to support them when their hours and pay were reduced. But hope prevailed when a group of neighbors with excess money rallied to establish a relief fund. They set the fund in place to assist residents who need help paying for rent, medical bills, and other essential items. Since March, thousands of dollars have payed countless neighbors’ bills.

  • Since the pandemic started, a handful of Jackson neighbors have also:

  • Delivered back-to-school packages for students at Jackson Elementary School.

  • Distributed “neighbor cards” to their neighbors, which communicated available assistance during the pandemic.

  • Established a neighborhood, volunteer-run, 24/7 emergency helpline for neighbors in Jackson.

  • Delivered boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables to 80 neighborhood families per week—many of whom were shut-in or living alone during the shelter-in-place order.

In partnership with Jackson Elementary School, another group of neighbors started a wilderness program. This enables them to invest in families at a time when they may feel trapped by shelter-in-place restrictions. Though Fresno is at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, many Jackson residents have never been to the mountains. This group of neighbors takes Jackson families on monthly wilderness trips to learn and explore (practicing physical distancing and wearing masks, of course). With input from the school, those in the group prioritize students with higher social-emotional-behavioral needs.

The virus and restrictions have inspired neighbors in Jackson to come together to pursue the common good of the neighborhood. Because this is a shared priority—the pandemic isn’t just a barrier, it’s an onramp into building a stronger community.

How did the Jackson neighborhood rally together to share their gifts with one another? Has tragedy or trauma ever brought you closer to your neighbors? How might you turn an ugly situation into a hopeful one in your neighborhood? What gifts do you have to share?

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