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What Giving Back Looks Like in the Era of Social Distancing

December 14, 2020

Ways people across the nation are helping those in need.


As the holidays approach, many of us may be thinking about how to express our love and gratitude to families, friends and the many essential workers who have kept society ticking as countless others abide by stay-at-home restrictions.


After all, many traditional activities from caroling with friends to volunteering at soup kitchens to gathering with family may be risky with the flu and COVID-19 circulating, while social distancing guidelines are likely to restrict other community get-togethers.


Yet throughout this year of extraordinary national challenges, everyday Americans have found new ways to connect, give thanks and offer help to each other — online, within neighborhoods and across the country.


They Saw the Signs


Earlier in the year, the introduction of lockdown that kept many people at home also triggered a new phenomenon: Handmade signs in shop and home windows throughout a neighborhood, expressing support for the healthcare and essential workers who continued to work on behalf of their communities. Many signs offered messages of hope and solidarity, small beacons of community in a time of unprecedented isolation. And when his neighbors remotely applauded coronavirus expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, they did so via custom-made signs planted in local lawns.


It Happened on Video Chat


Video calling also became a new conduit for connecting with other people, from hospital patients seeing family over FaceTime to grandparents acting as virtual tutor to their grandkids. In the coming festive season, the video call could also offer a vital line of communications for frontline workers who may be separated from loved ones due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus and the flu. Cox, for example, surprised nurses and healthcare workers with mom's homecooked meal to bring them a sense of home and love when they can't see their family. Once the meals were delivered, the frontline workers hopped on a video call to share family dinner from afar. 


With guidelines in some regions advising against traveling over Thanksgiving and perhaps beyond, it's likely many family gatherings will take place over high-speed internet, too — popular video call platform Zoom has even lifted its typical time limit over Thanksgiving Day to facilitate the traditional lengthy meal, virtually.


Creating Communities


Perhaps most marked of all has been the ways in which people have come together in communities of all sizes. Two teens who were grocery shopping for their grandparents launched a meal delivery program for seniors. Among neighbors, there were stories like the math teacher who held up a whiteboard at a student's window to explain an algebra problem, or the college student and her mom who designed masks for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Improving Our New Normal


The pandemic has triggered millions of people to volunteer their time and skills to helping those in need. And in an era of uncertainty and prolonged isolation, connecting with and helping others may be the key to getting through the current crisis. After all, research has shown that giving back offers myriad benefits, from improving the giver's health and mood, to fostering a sense of community. At the same time, acknowledging what others have done delivers a boost to their self-esteem. Plus, expressing gratitude in the first place makes us happier — a shield against mental health issues such as anxiety, loneliness and stress that may arise as a result of lockdown periods.


Learning From Each Other


Giving back, whether to loved ones or to people in need, is a time-honored tradition during this holiday season. Despite social distancing and lockdown restrictions, vast numbers of people across the country have found ways to express their gratitude and offer help throughout 2020. Giving back may take place at a physical distance, but it won't be at an emotional distance.


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