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Facebook Group Helps Locals Connect and Help Out During Outbreak

During this time of social distancing, some Arlington residents are trying to form tighter community bonds online.

A Facebook group called Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19 opened at the outset of the coronavirus crisis, and now is approaching 7,000 members.

“This group was created as a space to ask for help, share information, and connect to our neighbors,” the group’s about page says. “Many of us are still healthy and able to lend a hand to those who may be at higher risk.”

Posts range from the mundane to the inspiring. Group organizer Kellen MacBeth’s post raising money for the Arlington Food Assistance Center, for instance, is nearing its $20,000 goal after just a day. Those seeking help getting groceries or medical items are finding it thanks to group members.

Examples of other recent posts include:

MacBeth, who chairs Arlington’s Tenant-Landlord Commission, started the group with Chanda Choun, a candidate for Arlington County Board, after seeing a need.

“I started the page on the morning of March 16 after I had been invited to a Facebook page for D.C. with a similar purpose the night before,” MacBeth said. “When I saw it I did a quick search to see if anything yet existed for Arlington, and finding that none did, decided to create it as a resource for Arlingtonians to help one another and share information.”

MacBeth said he initially invited 30 friends and had 2,000 members by the end of the first day.

“I am shocked at how quickly it has grown,” he said. “I think people were looking for a way to be connected and feel part of some sort of effort to get through the crisis.”

“The desire for a local community response to deal with COVID-19 was dare I say… contagious,” said Choun, who joined as a co-admin of the group after himself starting a crowdsourced Google Sheet with key information for Arlington residents during the outbreak.

Some needs are more serious — food for seniors stuck at home, for instance — but others are asking for, and receiving, help with a variety of things.

“Others have used it to reach out for help because there are not a lot of options for some people to request non-emergency help… needing a laptop charger, getting art supplies for your elementary school students stuck at home,” MacBeth said. “As the needs of the community change, we will likely work to adapt the page in the ways that are most needed.”

While altruistic, the group has seen some of the negativity that comes with any large enough online community. According to MacBeth, moderation has been getting more strict.

“More recently we have seen an uptick in people who are less concerned with how others are impacted by what they post,” he said. “We have had to step up post approvals, dealing with flagged posts, and sending out announcements that only kind and helpful posts should be made on this page.”

Ultimately, said Choun — who is still running for County Board but has “shifted from a political campaign to a humanitarian campaign” — it’s community and caring that will get Arlington to the other side of this crisis.

“I think that in times of trouble and in times of crisis, love is what gets us through,” he said. “And love means caring for each other and doing whatever it takes to be sure everyone’s taken care of.”

The plan for the group, Choun added, “is to let this online community of Arlington neighbors continue to grow and evolve in a way that makes us a stronger, more loving people.”

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