In the wake of physical distancing brought on by COVID-19, there are many examples of individuals, community groups and organisations who are pitching in to offer help and support to their neighbours. Although I am fairly certain much of this will drop off once the crisis has passed, it is nonetheless heartening to see. Churches are among those making these efforts. While some are fairly focussed on how to use technology to keep ‘gathering’, others are emphasising enabling people to help their neighbours. Of course, churches can do both, and many are.

What is our church doing in Long Gully? First, we’ve adapted our People’s Pantry food program to make it as safe as possible without cutting off an important source of food for locals. Second, we’ve set up a local neighbourhood sharing group on Facebook for residents to offer support, and request help (either for themselves or others). We’ve also set up a Gather My Crew site to collate ‘offline’ requests: for people not on Facebook, they can call the church for help and this request goes out to a bank of volunteers. We’ve done a letterbox drop of the neighbourhood alerting people to this.

There is a point of interest so far in relation to the Facebook group and Gather My Crew site. Neither has attracted many requests for help. In fact, at this point in time we have only received 1 request; for cooked meals in response to the letterbox drop. The Facebook group has received no requests, even when I offered for people to send me requests that I could post without giving people’s names. On the other hand, we’ve received lots of offers to help: cook meals, run errands etc.

What does this lack of requests for help mean? A few things are going on:

  1. Possibly, people are not desperate enough yet, socially or financially.
  2. Related to this: Long Gully is generally an economically disadvantaged neighbourhood. Of course, this could mean people have casual jobs that keep their heads just above water, and the current crisis will really tip them over. However, it may also mean that people are quite used to surviving on a tight budget and not being able to get exactly what they want. Therefore, the current crisis is more “business as usual” than for the middle-class people who are losing their jobs.
  3. Lastly, I think the shame of asking for help is very real. When we set up the People’s Pantry, we did a community survey and found that if we charged a small amount to join the Pantry and mandated volunteer contribution, more people would join. The shame of asking for help, combined with the need to contribute, is strong – which is why the Facebook group is garnering more offers of help than requests.

If you’re involved in a community group that is supporting people at this time, what are your particular challenges?