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Neighborhood groups across the Washington area are forming militias of caring and help

Members of the Maywood Neighborhood Task Force divided their neighborhood into quadrants to better help track and assist their high-risk neighbors during the coronavirus crisis.
Members of the Maywood Neighborhood Task Force divided their neighborhood into quadrants to better help track and assist their high-risk neighbors during the coronavirus crisis. (Michele Hansen)

They’re at the ready, dividing their territories into quadrants, building spreadsheets to assist their maneuvers, and mustering to their aid stations to distribute rations and supplies.

Across the Washington area, small neighborhood militias are forming — militias of kindness, assistance and caring.

We may be worried about the character of America’s top leadership in this coronavirus crisis. But we don’t have to worry about Americans.

“This isn’t about any one of us, it’s about all of us,” said Amanda Davis, president of Arlington’s Maywood Community Association, which has formed the Maywood Task Force, a group of residents ready to help during a crisis unprecedented for our times.

Using mapping technology, organizational skills and old-fashioned neighborliness, small groups such as the Maywooders are offering to run errands or deliver groceries to older, at-risk or quarantined neighbors.

Teens such as 16-year-old Emily Dick, who is home from school in Arlington, bored and anxious to help, are volunteering their time as babysitters and home-school aides for younger children stuck at home.

A nurse in Shaw who speaks some Mandarin, in case anyone is facing a language barrier in asking for help, is ready to assist anyone in need.

A gerontologist in Foggy Bottom is willing to spend time chatting over Skype with lonely older folks.

A bar on Capitol Hill, no longer able to serve its usual offerings of craft cocktails, is organizing a food pantry for children.

Some restaurants are letting all children and seniors eat free as long as they are allowed to offer carryout.

Live updates: Coronavirus

The brigadier general in the Virginia operation is Michele Hansen, 31, who moved into Maywood two years ago and runs a geocoding software company with her husband. Her sister is a nurse practitioner who had been a medic in the military. Talking to her, Hansen got some perspective about how dire the crisis could get and asked her neighborhood association if she could set up a task force to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

She and her 6-year-old daughter went door-to-door in their neighborhood of historic homes, where nearly every house has a front porch, leaving fliers at their neighbors’ doors:

“If you are high-risk or end up needing to self-quarantine, know that your neighbors are here to help you. A group of Maywooders are standing ready to bring food and essential supplies to neighbors who may not be able to get them themselves.”

She gave them an email address to respond to and asked low-risk neighbors who are willing to help to reach out to her.

“I made a map of the neighborhood, about 400 houses,” she said. And when 15 people reached out to help, she divided the neighborhood among the volunteers, giving everyone a territory.

It isn’t always easy to get people to ask for help, Hansen said. By making people reach out to individuals and offer help, it’s more proactive and likely to be successful.

On Capitol Hill, my neighbors Stephanie O’Brien and Matthew Schaar came up with the idea to set up a spreadsheet for volunteers who want to help.

Dozens of folks from across the city pitched in to help deliver groceries and supplies — noting the size of their cars and their ability to lift heavy stuff.

They offered themselves up for babysitting, pet sitting and dog walking. A few have certified therapy dogs who can make house calls to offer comfort.

They can tutor anyone who is isolating over Zoom, Skype or FaceTime.

They are tech-savvy and willing to help others learn to connect to the outside world. They are fluent in Spanish, Arabic, American Sign Language and a little bit of Mandarin.

Our kids are watching how we handle coronavirus. Let’s teach them to be good people

With the closing of libraries, others have offered up their personal book collections to help those in isolation who’ve run out of literature.

If not part of an organized effort, I’ve seen scores of individuals on social media offering themselves up for help.

So far, none of the folks I talked to have been called upon to help. But we’re just a couple days into the lockdown part of this crisis.

I know, at this point you’re wondering if all this help is really helping when we’re supposed to be isolating.

“We’re talking to everyone about how to do this safely,” Hansen said. “We tell them, ‘If you are getting groceries for someone, use curbside pickup. Do not go into people’s houses, leave everything on the porch.’ They should be wiping down all of their door handles. . . . We need to be taking a lot of precautions.”

That makes sense. More sense than the politicians shaking hands and ignoring suggestions for social distancing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sure, there are folks who have managed to humiliate themselves with the toilet paper gold rush and mask hoarding, defiant barhopping and denial.

But most Americans are like these folks, willing to step up and help others, to listen to the facts and be there with rational, sound help.

They’re the embodiment of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s April 1944 assessment of Americans:

“Like Abraham Lincoln, I am a firm believer in the people, and, if given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crises,” MacArthur said. “The great point is to bring before them the real facts.”

Twitter: @petulad

Read more Petula Dvorak:

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Those masks you’re stockpiling? Our health-care and construction workers need them more.

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Coronavirus: What you need to know

The latest: The CDC has loosened many of its recommendations for battling the coronavirus, a strategic shift that puts more of the onus on individuals, rather than on schools, businesses and other institutions, to limit viral spread.

Variants: BA.5 is the most recent omicron subvariant, and it’s quickly become the dominant strain in the U.S. Here’s what to know about it, and why vaccines may only offer limited protection.

Vaccines: For people under 50, second booster doses are on hold while the Biden administration works to roll out shots specifically targeting the omicron subvariants this fall. Immunizations for children under 5 became available this summer. Here’s what to know about how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections and booster history.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. The omicron variant is behind much of the recent spread.

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