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story.lead_photo.caption Jessica McClard, founder of the Little Free Pantry movement, restocks the original pantry in front of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville in this file photo. Her idea to create the pantries, which contain food for anyone in need, has turned out to be a resource for families during the covid-19 crisis. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe) NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Jessica McClard, founder of the Little Free Pantry movement, restocks the original pantry Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in front of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville. Her idea to create the pantry, which contains food for anyone in need, has spawned the founding of similar pantries world wide.

"We can help with getting and dropping off groceries, picking up medicine, or if anyone has some other needs, we will try our best to help."

"If you are in need of meals for children during this time, the pick-up location for meals is New life Church on Riordan Road. Available 11 to 12 each day. It will include lunch and breakfast for the following day."

Web Watch

Supporting Bella Vista — www.facebook.com/groups/220395989079054/

NWA Mutual Aid — www.facebook.com/groups/774646933026674/

"Just loaded some snack bags into the Little Free Pantry at the Lutheran Church. More tomorrow."

These are the kinds of messages filling the pages of the new Supporting Bella Vista Facebook group. Denene McBride started the group at the end of last week as the concerns about covid-19 spread across the country. An Air Force veteran who is disabled herself, McBride has to lay in groceries when she feels well for the days when she doesn't, but she knew many people live paycheck to paycheck or crisis to crisis.

"I come from a very small town in Ohio, and I know how people there are acting," she says. "They come together and do for each other and look out for each other, and to kind of assuage my own fears for my loved ones back there, I wondered what I could do here. And I thought I could at least help people here start talking. So that's why I decided to create the group and put the information out. I have confidence in moms! I know women will come together and do what we do, and if you give people a space to do it in, it just makes it that much easier."

So far, McBride isn't asking for donations of tangible items, but she does have nursing mothers offering frozen breast milk if other moms can't get formula. And she's hoping anyone in Bella Vista living with food insecurity will reach out to her. Meanwhile, she's encouraging neighbors to check on neighbors, think about options like making an extra meal to take to an elderly friend and continue to reach out to others on the Facebook page.

"People want to do the right thing," she says. "But people also need connection and need to know they're valued. I hope we can help with all of that."

Down the road in Fayetteville, Luke Gould is one of the organizers of NWA Mutual Aid and the Y'Allidarity Facebook page.

"I'd seen a lot of folks on my social media feeds looking for ways to serve others during this public health crisis, including a post by a friend who was offering to run errands for folks who didn't feel safe to leave their homes due to being at higher risk," he says. "I wanted to come up with a way to connect folks to her and others like her, so I started a group and added a few friends, who added a few more, and it just kept growing from there. Now there's more folks in the group than live in the town I was born in, which is wild!"

Gould explains that "officially," the group is NWA Mutual Aid.

"I didn't come up with the term 'Y'allidarity' -- it's a Southern take on 'solidarity' that I've seen used in various ways and figured it would give people a chuckle and draw attention to what we're trying to do," he adds. "I've roped in friends who have lots of experience in community activism like Laura Bell Phillips to help manage the page and keep things running. This whole thing is a learning process for me, and I appreciate everyone's patience and participation."

Like Supporting Bella Vista, Y'allidarity is "focused on being a place to facilitate community connection and coordinate volunteering and aid efforts among individuals and various community resources," Gould says. "We have a volunteer sign-up sheet for folks who are willing to run errands and perform other tasks as needed, and we have a need request sheet for folks to request deliveries or get information on area resources. These forms are available in both Spanish and English. So far, we have a ton of volunteers and few requests, but that's all right. What I'm finding is that folks are using the Facebook group to make direct connections with each other and meeting needs that way, which is wonderful.

"It's important to note that we are not providing direct financial or material support," he adds. "We're just acting as a hub for folks to find what they need."

So far, Gould says, "we've seen the community come together in some pretty astounding ways! The admin team has done a great job of keeping the page running, our translation team very quickly got our documents into Spanish, and we have connected some people to grocery deliveries and pantry deliveries.

"But what's been really cool is seeing the way that folks connect and directly facilitate meeting needs. There are virtual yoga classes taught my local yoga instructors, folks offering e-tutoring for kids out of school, folks connecting to take turns watching each others' kids, seed swaps and community garden planning, job leads for folks who have found themselves laid off. A group member's whole household was sick, and another group member delivered medicine and rehydration drinks. It's been neat!"

If you know of similar groups -- organizations or just people working together -- to help during this time, please email Features Editor Becca Martin-Brown at bmartin@nwadg.com.

NAN Our Town on 03/19/2020

Print Headline: Neighbors help neighbors through crisis via new online groups

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