In a time when people are more isolated than ever, Waterloo resident Sara Wahl is tirelessly working to keep her community feeling connected through social media and virtual events.
“One of my goals when I moved here was to try to connect with my neighbours and help them connect with others,” she said.
Before the pandemic, Wahl had helped create a contact sheet for the neighbourhood for everyone to keep in touch and invite each other to events like garage sales and barbecues.
But when the pandemic hit, they pivoted to social media - a neighbourhood Facebook group.
“It’s just a friendly place for anyone to post anything that’s related to our neighbourhood, anything that’s going on in our lives,” she said, adding that it’s been a useful tool during a time when they can’t see each other face-to-face.
Since then, they’ve hosted a myriad of virtual events. For instance, the Twelve Days of Christmas, where the neighbourhood was split up into the red team and the green team. Each team was encouraged to decorate their house in their colours, and would participate in different events like baking cookies or singing holiday songs and sharing them to the Facebook page to earn points.
For Valentine's Day, Wahl invited neighbours to create care packages for people who might be feeling especially isolated. Fifty boxes were created, with things like homemade cookies or pre-wrapped food.
“Some people put jokes and stories, kids decorated the boxes and I gave them a sticker to put on the top so they could say who it was from,” she said.
Wahl said taking the time to care for neighbours in this way shows that “we know you, notice you, and would like to get to know you,” so they don’t feel alone. They also included a card to invite them to join the Facebook group if they hadn’t already, so they could stay in touch that way.
Working on projects like these is what makes Wahl happy. “It’s what makes me tick. If I don’t have a project like that on the go, I’m miserable, or my brain will come up with a new one,” she said.
She was raised to believe in and rely on a strong sense of community, where people show up for each other, and says that’s carried on into her adult life.
“That’s what I want for my kids. I want to show them that neighbours aren’t people to be feared, they are people to get to know, and if they’re different from us, all the better,” she said.
Last August, the neighbourhood held an outdoor event with a live band and a food truck on their street, and raised money for Anselma House, a women’s shelter in Kitchener. At that time, people were allowed to gather so long as they distanced, so everyone brought lawn chairs out and sat six feet apart.
They hope to have the event again this summer, but it will depend on COVID restrictions.
Wahl said that before the pandemic, it seemed like people would often forget the value of just being together in this way.
“If there was a silver lining to all of this pandemic mess, it would be that we’re forced to notice our neighbours that are beside us,” she said.