Chester Square Neighbors held its first virtual meeting in April 1, where neighbors gathered to talk with each other via Zoom right from the comfort of their own homes. As the COVID-19 crisis continues, these online meetings allow community organizations to retain some sense of normalcy and help each other out.
Neighbors discussed a mutual aid project for the South End to connect neighbors in need to resources, and provide ways for those who want to help to do so.
Community activist Armani White said that right now, he’s involved in the Roxbury Mutual aid group. “In times of crisis, it’s a time to be better neighbors,” he said. “It’s a nice way to get neighbors talking to each other and connected to each other in a time of crisis.”
South End neighbors created fliers about the mutual aid group and had them translated and delivered on Mass. Ave.
Elizabeth Ruckus of Showing Up for Racial Justice, which mobilizes white people against white supremacy, said that aid groups who the most effective have a “strong coordinating team.”
Chester Square Neighbors President Carol Blair asked neighbors if they had any ideas of what they might offer in terms of aid.
Karen Mauney-Brodek, president of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, said she would be willing to put extra groceries on her stoop for people who may need them. Other suggestions included putting a sign up with the groceries to let people know what they’re for, or a way to reach the person for perishable items that must be kept refrigerated.
The neighbors agreed that more fliers needed to be distributed as well to keep spreading the word. They also discussed adding more volunteers to the group.
Next on the agenda was Friends of Chester Square, where Michelle Laboy discussed changes that would have to be made this year in light of the virus outbreak.
“We are in a moment that we have to respect the restrictions that are in place to protect everyone,” she said. “Having a cleanup is not a good idea, which is what we normally do.”
Laboy said that for the cleanup, the Boston Parks Department delivers tools for the cleanup, “but that also feels wrong right now,” she said. She also said she was worried about neighbors sharing tools and potentially spreading germs. She said if the cleanup were to still happen, the Friends would have to rely on tools that neighbors already have.
However, Laboy said that the parks department has already been doing a lot of cleaning in Boston parks, including in Chester Square, so she said there probably isn’t much to clean up anyway. “We would probably focus on planting instead,” she said. “It’s a little early to tell because we have to wait to see what comes up first.”
Mauney-Brodek said that she has obserbed needles and garbage being picked up, and the fact that the City has chosen to keep its parks open is “pretty commendable.”
She said that the state Department of Conservation and Recreation has taken out all of its garbage cans from its parks. This has not happened in Boston parks but “that could change soon” to keep workers safe, she said.
Laboy said that creating a list of tasks for neighbors to do in the square at different times so not everyone is crowded there at the same time would be a good idea. Blair suggested the creation of a Google Form so neighbors can sign up for particular things.
Lastly, the neighbors discussed other tools and ways that people can help each other out and still have fun even though everyone is stuck inside.
Mauney-Brodek suggested that neighbors who are interested all gather on Zoom for an hour some day and play with the software to become more familiar with its features, as it can be helpful down the line. “Having this tool means we’re all going to be more resilient,” she said, adding that she would be willing to help out with the Zoom training.
Another suggestion was a neighborhood Zoom or Facebook Live concert with a way for neighbors to submit tips for musicians, as this is a difficult time for many local musicians. Other suggestions included having a virtual happy hour, kids circle time, other advocacy work, and collaborating with the South End Historical Society.
Some neighbors also thought that even when the virus passes, offering Zoom access to the in-person meetings would allow people who cannot physically come to the meetings for any reason to still actively participate in their neighborhood.
The next Chester Square Neighbors meeting will be on May 6.