Trish Anderson got frustrated over a recent weekend seeing pictures and hearing stories of people going out and crowding in public in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So come March 16, Anderson, who lives in Towson, decided to channel that perturbed energy into something productive. She organized a neighborhood mutual aid group, so that neighbors could look out for each other.
It’s “just making sure our neighbors have what they need, and making sure they don’t feel like they have to be out in the grocery stores and the pharmacies,” she said.
To get the COVID-19 outbreak under control, experts are recommending social distancing, meaning as many people who can stay home and out of public should do so. Those most at risk from suffering severe symptoms are the elderly and anyone with underlying health conditions.
Already, about two dozen residents of the Knollwood neighborhood have signed up to volunteer their time, Anderson said last week. The neighborhood is bordered by the Country Club of Maryland on its south and east sides and other neighborhoods, including Aigburth Manor and Wiltondale, on its west and north sides.
Anderson and her husband, Matt, have three kids who are now at home because of school closures. He can work remotely full time, and she does not work outside the home, so the family didn’t need to arrange child care, Anderson said.
“We are very, very lucky,” she said. “And I understand that that is a privilege, so hopefully this forum is a tiny way to climb up on that privilege and help out people who need help.”
The Knollwood neighborhood has 380 homes, with about 220 residents on the membership rolls, said David Riley, president of the neighborhood association.
“If we can take a challenge and something good comes from it … that’s how we will be judged,” Riley said.
An online form that was created includes fields for volunteering or requesting assistance with things like grocery deliveries or picking up prescriptions. Anderson said she doesn’t want anyone who lives in Knollwood and is in a high-risk group, or who is experiencing even mild symptoms, to feel as though they must go out and pick up their supplies. In addition, contacts with those in need are made through social media, email or phone calls.
Part of the effort is to encouragei people to use online ordering for groceries, or, in instances where paying back a neighbor is necessary, to use digital methods like PayPal or Venmo rather than exchanging cash or checks, to minimize contact.
County Councilman David Marks, a Republican who represents the Towson area, said he has been inspired by the organizing in Knollwood to assist vulnerable neighbors.
“These type of informal arrangements are going to be critical as we get through coronavirus crisis,” Marks said.
Other Towson neighborhoods have started talking about putting together mutual aid groups, but have not gotten as organized or official as the group in Knollwood, Marks said. Groups also have sprung up in Baltimore City and elsewhere to help ease the burden of the pandemic.
Neil Dubovsky, another Knollwood resident who is working on the aid effort with Anderson, said it wasn’t even really a consideration whether he and his family would help others during the pandemic. His brain is "wired” to help those needing assistance, he said.
“I’m going to be home, I’m going to have some extra time. I’m sure there are people in the community who are going to have needs,” Dubovsky said. “Every little part that people can play makes a difference.”
Nearly all segments of life have been affected.
Restaurants in the Towson area have either closed or switched to carryout and delivery only. Large gatherings and planned events have been canceled or postponed. The Shops at Kenilworth and Towson Town Center have both had to close their indoor malls.
And, with schools out, there are many food-insecure children who may otherwise be out of daily meals. To compensate, Baltimore County has started distributing free meals to any student.
Between March 16 and March 19, distribution points at schools and recreation centers around the county gave out 32,960 meals, according county spokesman Sean Naron.
Also on Friday, both Greater Baltimore Medical Center and the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center reported that the public has been donating food.
John Lazarou, GBMC’s spokesman, said, “Many generous community members have already donated food for our hard-working staff. We are touched by their generosity.”
He added that the three tents located outside the Emergency Department are being used to triage adult emergency department patients.
University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center spokesman Kris Roeder said that “several generous area businesses” have offered food for caregivers and staff.
“Our community’s support is a blessing,” Roeder said. “It’s tremendously gratifying when our neighbors commit themselves to taking care of the people taking care of our patients.”
The hospital’s triage tent is in place but hasn’t been used yet, Roeder said.