"It's our neighborhood, but it's also a safety net:" How households in a Texas neighborhood banded together to exchange essential items and help each other through the coronavirus pandemic.
A neighborhood on the outskirts of Austin, Texas, is coming together to help each other through the coronavirus pandemic. Neighbors in Ratten Creek are donating supplies, money, and time to those who need help paying emergency bills and grocery shopping. Others are using their skills and passions, like art, sewing, and landscaping, to serve each other's needs through this difficult time. The neighborhood communicates primarily through a shared Facebook group, moderated by neighbor Christine Newman. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Christine Newman, a resident of Austin, Texas, says building a sense of community in her neighborhood was no small feat. At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, an out-of-work family had both of their cars break down. One of their neighbors checked out the car, while another recommended a local shop, which gave a discount on repairs. The whole neighborhood came together to chip in for repairs. "It's been a conscious effort by the people who live here to embrace a smaller town community mindset, happening in a big city," Newman said. The Rattan Creek neighborhood is on the northwest outskirts of Austin. While walking through it, you might stop for a life-sized game of Chutes and Ladders in Aly Finely's driveway. You might donate some fabric to Aimee Sharp's bin of materials for face masks, or you might grab a miniature watercolor painting from Natalie Flores's yard. If you look down, you'll see positive messages like "you look nice today" and "be well" colored in chalk by Carolyn Jennings Brown. In this neighborhood, members are doing what they can to help each other through the coronavirus pandemic. Behind it all, Christine Newman is communicating with neighborhood residents to find out who has needs and who has services to offer and matching them together. SEE ALSO: Here's a look at how a therapist set up his daily schedule and his home office so he can conduct private, sensitive meetings with patients while also raising a young daughter DON'T MISS: Photos show how Texas's stay-home orders have emptied out Austin, a city known for its eclectic music scene, nightlife, and outdoor recreation One Thursday night, Christina Newman posted that a family in the community needed groceries on her neighborhood Facebook page. Within an hour, she had bags of food on her doorstep from eight different people.
Christine Newman said that after she posted that a family needed groceries on Facebook, neighbors raided their own pantries for food to donate. One person brought a bag of fresh clementines from a tree in her yard. In a conversation with Business Insider, Newman said that she believes if you can set a kind tone in your neighborhood, people will want to be a part of it. With Facebook as her platform, Newman is the thread of the Rattan Creek neighborhood.
Newman and her family moved into the Rattan Creek neighborhood from California about 9 years ago. A year later, someone in the neighborhood created a Facebook group for the community. Without moderation, Newman said the group grew into a negative space flooded with internet trolls. About four years ago, Newman took control of the Facebook group to help it serve the neighborhood positively with the goal to build "an old fashioned sense of community." Over time, the group transformed into a virtual space where neighbors can come together and help each other, often with Newman as a liaison, especially for neighbors who want to remain anonymous. "It's taken a long time to build personal credibility," Newman told Business Insider, "but so many people know me now from all the groups I'm involved with that is makes it easy to be a go-between who can connect people." Newman has continued to use Facebook to lead the collection and distribution of needs like food and financial support around the neighborhood since the coronavirus pandemic began. "People trust me enough to come to me and ask for help, and enough people are comfortable with me to give what they can and cover those needs," she said. Newman serves as a pickup and drop-off point, connecting neighbors in need with others who can help, sometimes anonymously.
When a neighbor approaches Newman with something they need, she writes up a Facebook post for the group explaining it. Newman keeps a running list of those who have offered to help, and she calls on them as other neighbors come forward. "It's been pretty amazing," she says. "I just ask and the group makes it happen." One of the people helping out is Lyna Sullivan. She has been grocery shopping for her neighbors.
Another Ratten Creek resident, Lyna Sullivan, told Business Insider that she has made trips to the grocery store for her neighbors and dropped them off at their doorstep. Sullivan said several neighbors have done this for others who are elderly, confined to childcare, have underlying health conditions or are just scared to leave their homes. Sullivan has also been at the receiving end of the neighborhood's generosity — her 4-year-old son recently got lucky and was randomly selected from a pool of neighbors to receive a new guitar.
Sullivan shared that about 10 neighbors showed interest in the donated guitar, and Vincent was randomly selected to receive it. Right when he got it, Vincent began practicing like his older brother, who takes lessons at a local music school. "Vincent is still too young to get accepted but he shows a lot of interest in playing because his brother does," Sullivan said. Newman says that in Rattan Creek, helping your neighbors is nothing new and that coronavirus pandemic has simply amplified the camaraderie was already there.
Sullivan views her neighborhood as a safety net. Newman mentioned that for the last two years, the Rattan-Creek community has hosted collections to pay for families' lunch bills at a local elementary school. Two years ago the neighborhood raised more than $2,000 for a family that had a house fire. Years of coming together and building a sense of community prepared Rattan Creek to come together to get through the coronavirus crisis, Newman added. Getting to know each other through the Facebook page and building that level of trust in each other takes some time and commitment on everyone's part," Newman said. "By the time this crisis hit, stepping up felt like the natural thing to do here." When Newman found out that a family needed help paying an emergency vet bill in early May, she called on Katie Evans, a resident who is on the board of directors at a rescue non-profit.
"Christine contacted me directly, knowing that dogs are my jam," Evans said. The anonymous neighbor's dog had been injured and needed urgent care and Evans said she committed to paying half the bill — $200. When Evans got to the clinic, she explained she was there to pay half of someone else's bill, and she said the clinic discounted the bill, allowing her to cover the whole thing. "My husband and I are so grateful to be working still," Evans told Business Insider, "so we are doing our best to help out those who are struggling." Evans has also been helping out her neighbors by donating dog food and heartworm medication.
Since the pandemic began, Evans has been donating dog food and heartworm medication to those in need. Evans said her experience in dog rescue has made her aware of how common heartworms are. Evans works closely with a veterinarian in her work with rescue dogs, and she has learned how to properly dose livestock heartworm medication for dogs. When a dog owner requests heartworm medication, Evans asks for the dog's weight to ensure she gives the proper dose. She measures it into a syringe and then remotes the needle before giving it to the dog owner. The medicine is given orally. Amiee Sharp, a Ratten Creek resident, started making masks for her neighbors and healthcare workers in mid-March.
Sharp's mother, who is a nurse, first told her that she should wear a mask in March. Sharp was inspired by a group of people making masks in Seattle to start making masks herself. She started by buying a sewing machine and about six yards of fabric. Sharp estimated she had made about 2,000 masks by the end of May. She has a system where neighbors can donate materials for masks to a bin in her front yard.
Sharp told Business Insider that neighbors have been stopping by her house to donate materials for face masks since March. At first, she says, donations were for nurses, until later when face masks were recommended for everyone to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Sharp also said she gets requests for face masks through Facebook Messenger and delivers them to people's doorsteps. Another neighbor, Carolyn Jennings Brown, is chalking up the sidewalks with positive messages for neighbors.
Carolyn Jennings Brown, a public speaker who runs an anti-bullying workshop for Texas public schools, has been working with her family to spread positive messages on the neighborhood's sidewalks since the pandemic began. "I believe one of the most important lessons I can pass down to my children is the importance of giving back to the community," she said. Brown isn't the only one — her neighbor Ali Finley, drew a giant game of Chutes and Ladders in their driveway for the community to use.
Ali Finley and her son drew a lifesize version of the famous Chutes and Ladders board game for their neighborhood. Finley said that chalking up their driveway was her 9-year-old son's idea. They saw a photo of a huge chalked Chutes and Ladders board on the internet, and he loved the idea. Once the school year ended, the Finley family drew the board in their driveway, then they posted a photo of it in the neighborhood Facebook group, letting everyone know that they could use it. Cathleen Gail has been helping her neighbors with gardening and landscaping.
Cate Gail, the executive director of Keep Texas Beautiful, a non-profit that works to keep Texas environments clean and pretty, has been gardening and landscaping for her neighbors. It started in her own yard, then neighbors starting asking Gail to landscape their yards as well.
Gail said she starting gardening in her own yard to help her cope with the pandemic and her next-door neighbor took notice. "I felt so inspired by her interest that I ended up doing her font, back, and our shared yard with her help," she told Business Insider. Since then, several neighbors have asked for help with landscaping, and Gail says she's booked through the fall. Nicole Flores, who has taken to painting during the pandemic, has been sharing her passion with her neighbors.
Nicole Flores started watercolor painting to help ease her anxiety amid the coronavirus crisis. The paintings piled up quickly during shelter-in-place orders, she said. She leaves a plank of wood full of tiny paintings on the sidewalk in front of her house so that neighbors can grab one when they're out walking.
Flores said that she saw so many people walking around the neighborhood during the pandemic, she decided to leave her paintings on a piece of plywood in her front yard to see if they would ease her neighbor's minds. Several members of the neighborhood have been organizing social distancing neighborhood events as well, like parades, for graduating students.
To celebrate significant events, like school graduations, neighborhood members have been working together to arrange drive-through parades amid the coronavirus pandemic, Newman told Business Insider. The district constables in the community have volunteered to help execute some of these parades, Newman said. Mike Pendley, Chief Deputy of the Williamson County Precinct 1 Constable's Office confirmed this with Business Insider. "We've always just felt very welcomed over there," Pendley said of the Rattan Creek neighborhood, "so it makes it really easy when we need to help."