Back home in Duluth for the remainder of her final semester of college, Samantha Nelson has been using this time of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic to make sure her neighborhood is more connected than ever.

She's compiled a list for her neighborhood that outlines the ways in which neighbors can help each other out.

"We just wanted to make sure we got this out there before coronavirus hit Duluth. We wanted to make sure all this was in place before stuff got too bad or worrisome," Nelson said.

On Sunday, Nelson and her parents — Jeff Nelson, who's a doctor at Essentia Health, and Deanna Nelson, who's a registered nurse — distributed forms to nearly 50 nearby homes in their Congdon neighborhood.

Samantha Nelson carried her completed forms in a folder. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Samantha Nelson carried her completed forms in a folder. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

The forms ask each household to list its contact information and the ways in which it was able and willing to provide help with tasks such as picking up groceries and running other errands, pet sitting or dog walking for someone too sick to do so, emergency babysitting and emergency child care pickup. Families could also write the needs they anticipated they might have.

On Thursday, as she delivered the lists of the data she'd compiled to neighbors' homes, Nelson said many households offered additional ways they could be of help, such as technical support for people working from home, cooking, spiritual support, medical support and even morale boosting by way of singing and dancing together from their own front steps.

That idea came from the Bixby family. Rebecca Bixby said she was trying to think of something the neighborhood could do to come together and find positivity amid the pandemic.

"I thought of your family and all the goofiness," Bixby said to Nelson, whose family has organized many neighborhood block parties.

Nelson said she hopes to turn this upcoming Wednesday's morale boosting session into a weekly occasion.

Ransom Bixby, 10, brainstormed more ways the neighborhood could keep each other's minds off the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic, like yelling jokes to each other or performing "social distancing comedy" from the safety of their own lawns.

"Then it takes their mind off coronavirus and the things that could happen," Ransom Bixby said.

While distributing the contact lists, Nelson said even those who didn't return a form to her parents' house would receive a contact list.

Samantha Nelson distributes one of her forms Thursday. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Samantha Nelson distributes one of her forms Thursday. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

"We know some people might be a little hesitant to reach out for help," Nelson said, "but they might be the people who need it the most."

Similar offers to support each other through times of uncertainty, self-isolation and unemployment are occurring around the Northland.

Pat Malley, a Hermantown resident launched a "virtual tip jar" website in the early hours of Thursday morning where people can offer financial support to service workers who are no longer working due to the governor's order to temporarily close shop in an attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19.

"The whole idea is, if I usually go to Yellow Bike Coffee here in Duluth, I know the first name of the barista that's usually helping me. Now I don't see that person anymore, but I know they're struggling," Malley said. "I can go in and find them (on the website) if they put in their information and I can send them $20."

The website is a Google spreadsheet where workers in the service industry can fill out their name, place of employment along with their Venmo or PayPal usernames.

Malley suggests people donate to workers they recognize in order to avoid donating to someone who's not actually an affected service worker.

"I don't really see people just going in here and throwing money out there, maybe they will. I mean, that's cool if you have enough money to do that, but I would see it being far more likely that somebody would go in here and be like, 'My buddy Gabe, who always makes my sandwich at the deli, I know he's without a job right now.'"

The virtual tip jar can be found at duluthian.org, a domain name Malley has owned for the past 15 years. He decided now was the time to put it to use.

The inspiration to do so came from a friend, Chris Correia, who asked Malley if he could use his technical abilities to set the website up after learning of something similar happening in Washington D.C.

With the help of social media, he's hoping to get the word out about the website.

Samantha Nelson goes through forms returned to her family's mailbox Wednesday, March 18. Samantha and her parents Deanna and Jeff handed out forms to about 40 neighbors amid growing concern of COVID-19. The form allows people to ask or offer help. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Samantha Nelson goes through forms returned to her family's mailbox Wednesday, March 18. Samantha and her parents Deanna and Jeff handed out forms to about 40 neighbors amid growing concern of COVID-19. The form allows people to ask or offer help. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Many others are taking to social media platforms like Facebook to offer help, from child care to picking up groceries.

That's what Esko resident and business owner Jim Lowinski did. In a video he shared on a Facebook page for Northlanders seeking help during the pandemic, Lowinski told viewers to call his business.

"Our guys are out running around town anyway. It would be no problem for us to stop by a Kwik Trip or a Holiday, or maybe even a grocery store, whatever you might need. Just give us a quick shout out," Lowinski said in the video.

In an interview with the News Tribune, Lowinksi said he first put the call out to his clients at Northstar Heating and Cooling ⁠— who are typically older and might be heeding advice to stay home ⁠— but when he got invited to a Facebook page where he saw people asking for help, he decided to share the video with the community.

"We're kind of a proud people here," Lowinski said. "A lot of people won't ask for help. That's why I thought I'd put it out there. Don't be embarrassed. If you need help, you need help."

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