None of us have ever been though anything like this before. We face a global pandemic with an unknown trajectory. All of our daily rituals — sending our children to school, going to work, meeting friends and family — have been put on hold. And the story is the same in every country and every community in the world. The only reference point we have for this is science fiction movies and none of us like looking to science fiction for clues about our immediate future.
But amidst all the uncertainty of this time, one thing we do know is this: Even as we must stand six feet apart, it has never been more important that we stand together as a community.
The most urgent thing we must do together right now is protect our health. The noise about "not a big deal" is happily gone and most of us are following the guidance of public health experts: stay apart, wash our hands, and isolate entirely at the first sign that we might be infected. But there is more that we need to do together right now than just protect our health, and having a common vision of that is important.
We need to reach out to those among us who are most vulnerable, be it on our block or in our family. Who is most frail, who is most anxious, who needs help shopping, who needs us to call them and check in or say hello through a closed glass door?
We need to rally around our local small businesses. We have always said that our small businesses are Lockport’s economic backbone, and that backbone is at risk of breaking. Our restaurants, day care centers, hair cutters, closed retail stores and many others are fighting for their survival and need our help. Here is one thing we can do if we are able: pay in advance. Buy a gift card for meals you will eat another time, or send a check now for the next time you are able to sit in their barber chair or drop your child off at their door.
We also need to come to the aid of those getting hit hardest by economic havoc. Hundreds of people are losing their jobs right now and need our help. While some of us are fortunate to have jobs we can do from home, a lot of people can’t. During last year’s GM strike there was an outpouring of community support for those workers. Many people bought grocery cards to drop off at the union hall. Local nonprofits are gearing up to collect support for our families in need and match that with certificates from local businesses — two good deeds in one. At some point soon Congress will approve a massive economic rescue plan to help keep the country afloat, one that will send families direct cash payments. Many will need those funds just to survive, but for those who do not, let’s be generous and share our rescue funds with those who need help right now.
We need to support our local health workers. Think about the nursing and medical staff at Eastern Niagara Hospital. They are on the front lines of this fight, risking their health for all of us. They are asking for masks to help protect them from infecting themselves and others. Who has any that they can donate? In Chicago people started a Go Fund Me page where people can donate to feed front line health workers. Let’s start offering that same kind of support here.
We also need to support our collective spirits. This isn’t going to be over in two weeks and it is going to get a lot harder when more among us get sick. You can already see that spirit in the way we say hello to one another differently when we pass six feet apart. But we can do more and we can be creative. Families in other parts of the country are having their children draw pictures of rainbows to put in their windows, a reminder that all storms do pass. Lockport’s windows could use some hand drawn rainbows right now too.
Weaving our community together takes weavers and there are heroes among us. Jessica Dittly and Colton Balcerzak at Lockport Main Street Inc. (the people who bring us our wonderful Saturday markets) are busy helping promote restaurants serving take-out. Bree Woodbridge of McCollum Orchards is helping counsel other small businesses on survival strategies. The Lockport school district has put together hundreds of meals for children in need. Bob Ray stood outside Scripts last week with a sign to alert people they were still serving to-go. The dedicated staff at this newspaper are working day and night to keep us informed. There are many others as well.
The work of keeping us strong as a community is like building a jigsaw puzzle and everyone has a piece to bring to that task. Don’t wait to be asked. If you have an idea act on it. Now is the time. The way we get through this is not by acting like the worst passengers on the Titanic and looking out just for ourselves. The way we get through this is together. In every hardship there is a hidden blessing, if you look for it. The blessing hidden in this one is to take that idea of Lockport Together and make it more real than ever, one person and one act of creativity and generosity at a time. Be safe, everyone.
Jim Shultz is the founder and executive director of the Democracy Center and a father and grandfather in Lockport. He can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.