WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?
Baltimore magazine|April 2021
A shared crisis has a way of galvanizing relationships.
JANELLE ERLICHMAN DIAMOND

It was just over a year ago that the world seemed to come to a screeching halt. One day parents were driving their kids to baseball practice, and the next they were hoarding toilet paper and creating Zoom accounts. As the country erupted into panic and confusion those first few days in mid-March, three Mt. Washington neighbors started texting each other. Sam DuFlo, owner of Indigo Physiotherapy, wrote the first group message on March 15, 2020, to Samantha Claassen, proprietor of Golden West Café, and Vanessa Pikler, a Baltimore-based psychologist. They decided they needed a community meeting and invited everyone who lived along the alley behind Rogers Avenue and Greenberry Road. Seven families showed up. “We all stood in a big circle six feet apart,” recalls Pikler. “We didn’t even know masks were important at that point.” The meeting was simply to acknowledge the fact they were in this together. The neighbors made a promise, offering to pick up groceries, help with medical questions (like where someone could procure a COVID test), walk dogs, and look out for each other, especially the older residents on their block, using a Facebook page and group text. With their calendars suddenly wiped clean and the state in lockdown, they had nothing but time and energy to put toward each other.

Under normal circumstances—even in a place like friendly “Smalltimore”—the majority of neighbors see each other mostly in passing. Pleasant but brief interactions—a wave, a quick hello while walking the dog, a commiseration over bad weather—are the most we can hope for as we run from soccer games to dinner reservations to work meetings to theater performances to vacations. Stopping to chat meant being late for some-thing. But all of a sudden, everyone’s world shrunk to include only their house, and for sanity’s sake, their street and their neighbors. “A shared crisis has a way of galvanizing relationships,” says Pikler.

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