The many ways neighborhoods have come together during quarantine.
The COVID-19 pandemic took a lot away from everyone — jobs, access to fundamental needs, and experiences. The opportunity to watch hard-working seniors walk across the stage to accept their diplomas; taking hundreds of photos of your kids before they leave for prom; even birthday celebrations were hindered by the pandemic. Even with social distancing orders in place, however, neighborhoods in Columbia came together and created new ways to make sure these special moments were still celebrated.
A Night to Remember
On Onofrio Court in the Rothwell Heights development, neighbors gathered at the beginning of May to dance the night away and honor the two high school seniors on the block with a prom night.
Residents on Onofrio Court were sent an official invitation inviting the household to the prom. Krista Kippenberger, resident of Onofrio Court, attended the prom with her two daughters and husband. The prom was to be held during their Friday night happy hours in the cul-de-sac, a tradition the block started to pursue more frequently since the pandemic hit Columbia, and attendees were to dress up.
“We have one female senior, and she actually went and got the dress she wanted and wore it, so she had a brand new dress to wear,” Krista explains.
The neighbors of Onofrio dug out their best attire for all of the family. Men sported their best suits, women dazzled in their dresses, and even smaller children dressed up for the occasion. Krista’s daughters wore some of their favorite dresses printed with florals, lace, stripes, and even some unicorns.
Krista and her neighbors felt for the seniors who were forced to miss this pivotal event in their high school experience. “It was actually a junior on the block that had the idea to have [the prom] for the seniors,” Krista says. Together, she and one of the seniors teamed up to plan the night, making sure everyone was involved along the way.
On the night of the Onofrio Court Prom, the cul-de-sac was decorated with a gold and purple balloon arch and twinkling lights. The residents ate dinner and celebrated their seniors — together. “It was really in that moment of the prom that it felt like the pandemic wasn’t happening. We were all together in the neighborhood, and you just forgot about the world around you for a night,” Krista says.
The night continued with father-daughter dances, family photos, and, of course, the crowning of prom royalty, which was awarded to the two seniors on the block.
The Little Things
When Elizabeth McKinney thinks about her neighbors in Wyndham Ridge, she’s reminded of how grateful she is to have such a strong support system right next door. “The phrase ‘It takes a village’ has taken on a whole new meaning to me, especially when it comes to being a parent,” Elizabeth says. “My neighbors have helped me raise my kids — I can’t imagine my kids growing up without our neighborhood.”
This popular phrase embodies the supportive atmosphere the Wyndham Ridge neighborhood created amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the larger neighborhood events were canceled to follow social distancing practices. “We need to be loving our neighbors by protecting each other,” Elizabeth explains.
Despite these cancellations, the neighborly support continued. At the beginning of quarantine, the neighborhood organized a “Helping Neighbors in Wyndham Ridge” Google Doc and Facebook page. This page gave people the opportunity to both sign up to help or raise their hand for support when a need arose.
“Thirty-five neighbors signed up to help either pick up and deliver groceries, share basic pantry items or cleaning supplies, share flu or cold medicine, or even walk a dog,” Elizabeth explains. “The fact that there were 35 people to sign up to say: ‘Hey, I’m here. I’m available. And I want to help.’ It’s a comfort to know that you have support next door.”
The Wyndham Ridge residents also participated in birthday parades to celebrate residents’ special days. “During COVID-19, when a child would have their birthday, since they couldn’t have a birthday party, they would have neighbors and friends drive by,” Elizabeth explains. “People would decorate their cars with balloons, they’d throw candy at the kids, and it was just a way that the kids could still feel celebrated while social distancing.”
If a neighbor needed a mask, one would be sewn and given to the family. If a family needed a new puzzle to solve with their family, a neighbor would happily lend some to them. Regardless of what a family needed, the support never quit flowing through the neighborhood.
“I love our neighbors,” Elizabeth says. “They are our people.”
Fun for Everyone
Over in the Shepard neighborhood, residents got a different taste of socially distant activities with Food Truck Fridays and a bear hunt for the kids.
Since March, food trucks have been stopping into Shepard neighborhood. On every Friday that she was available, Cara Owings, a Shepard neighborhood resident, would climb into her golf cart with her husband and drive to the park to attend the tasty event.
“We’ve had some brand new trucks come, and it has been a pleasure to help them out while they’re still learning as new business owners,” Cara explains. “It’s a great way to still feel connected to our neighbors and to safely social distance and visit.”
The residents of Shepard Neighborhood also hosted a “bear hunt” for the children. Like a scavenger hunt, children would go around the neighborhood and try to spot all of the bears hidden in the neighbors’ windows. Cara says, “I created a Google Map on our page and allowed everyone to pin their house if they were putting a bear in their window.” This helped families strategically plan their search route so they could find all of the bears.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on us all. These neighbors remind us that with a little love and support, we can make it through these troubling times. After all, it takes a village.