Thursday morning, Marsea Nelson woke up to a foreboding text from a friend.
He told her “he didn’t have ‘My Buy Nothing Facebook group got too political’ on his 2023 Bingo card,” she tells ARLnow.
Arguing that a local Facebook group for giving and receiving free stuff had gotten too big to be effective, the page’s volunteer admins have embarked on a process to splinter into smaller, more neighborhood-specific groups. The group currently serves a number of northern Arlington neighborhoods, plus some just outside of Arlington’s borders.
Just as they were about to launch the new groups and archive the legacy one, the group founder, Kayla Owen, stepped in and put a stop to it. She revoked their admin privileges, alleging that they had silenced people who disagreed with the plan while intentionally excluded her from the decision making.
She muted other posts and created a poll: split up or stay together? The admins would be reinstated if a majority wanted to move forward with the breakup.
“I can picture reading this in ARLnow,” said a Dominion Hills participant, who requested anonymity. “I think this is the kind of drama the rest of Arlington should read.”
Buy Nothing is a worldwide movement to help people befriend their neighbors while giving away stuff that cannot be sold or donated to a nonprofit. There are thousands of neighborhood-specific Facebook groups and millions of members, including several groups in Arlington.
“Buy Nothing Arlington (Northwest), VA” was experiencing growing pains. The 3,000-member group had boundaries spanning from north of Route 50, all the way to McLean and then over to I-66 and Glebe Road. Some felt that competing for and picking up free stuff was becoming too difficult and theorized that was why some had stopped participating altogether.
While the admins decided four smaller groups were necessary, Owen’s poll found that 75% of respondents did not want to be divided up this way. Poll results in-hand, she decided “Buy Nothing Arlington (Northwest), VA” will remain and discussions of boundary changes will be shelved for now.
“After reading emotional outpourings from members about their sense of loss, I decided that I had to intervene so the community could determine its future direction,” Owen tells ARLnow.
Nelson says she respects this position but sympathizes with the admins, who worked hard on the smaller groups, called “sprouts.”
“It’s so sad, and so silly, that this community people held so dear got so ugly,” she said. “The majority of people wanted the group to stay together so they’re happy to ignore how this all went down.”
ARLnow reached out to some of the affected admins but did not hear back before deadline. Screenshots ARLnow reviewed indicate admins had supporters who criticised Owen’s maneuver and Owen herself for stepping in even though she left Arlington to move elsewhere in Northern Virginia. (For her part, she says Buy Nothing permits out-of-area admins as a “check” on the system.)
“I’m sure [the admins] are pissed,” the Dominion Hills member said. “They probably feel like there’s been a coup.”
On Facebook, one user said Owen’s tactics will turn off people from responding honestly.
“I think people who are turned off by drama will not respond,” the comment said. “Like others, the first word that came to mind was ‘coup.'”
Gary Shulman has only lived in Arlington for about three months but has created a popular Facebook group all about the warm and wonderful feelings the county evokes.
Shulman, a retired early education specialist and published poet, was already using his outreach and advocacy skills to connect with Arlington residents in the Facebook group, Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19 after he moved to Rosslyn in April.
Without even realizing it, that page became the “Gary Shulman Show,” he said, where he would post all of his and his partner Marc’s adventures. The intention of the page was not for it to become the “blog” of one user. So, others encouraged Shulman to begin a new Facebook page — a page that could remind Arlingtonians what makes the county special.
He started Arlington Through the Eyes of a Newbie on May 13 and gained more than 600 followers within the first day. Now, he has over 700 members that follow his and Marc’s day-to-day life, as well as share helpful tips and suggestions. Shulman and Marc have been able to discover nitty-gritty information — where the best dermatologist is, allergist, dentist, even barbershop.
As he’s explored Arlington, members of the group have recognized him, as if he’s a local celebrity. Some stop and take photos with him to share on Facebook.
“There is a wonderful and caring network [in Arlington] and in many ways, reminds me of my early days in East NY and Canarsie Brooklyn where a sense of community was in every fiber of every neighbor. They all cared,” Shulman posted on his personal Facebook account.
Shulman always fantasized about living in Mayberry, the setting of “The Andy Griffith Show,” where people care about each other, garden, have beautiful homes, and enjoy the simple pleasures of life, he told ARLnow. His Facebook page reminds Arlingtonians to look on the ground and take in their (and others’) neighborhoods, places they pass daily.
He and Marc enjoy trying new restaurants, like Brass Rabbit, and Guajillo, where a post shows them trying out one of its “sangritas.” They also like finding beautiful parks and neighborhoods like Bon Air Memorial Rose Garden and Lyon Village and meeting new friends (especially dogs). Shulman sometimes shares some of his published poems.
Shulman and Marc had only moved to Arlington a month before he started his Facebook group. They spent two years and eight months in Palm Springs, where they had originally thought they’d spend retirement.
However sitting in their Palm Springs home, outside temperatures reaching 120 degrees with 0% precipitation, the COVID-19 pandemic trapped Shulman and Marc inside.
“When it’s 120 degrees, you can’t go any place — you’re a prisoner,” said Shulman. “Something was happening to my mental health. Covid happened, and then everything closed down.”
Since moving to Arlington, they’ve been able to get out and about.
It’s no doubt that Shulman’s “fans” know him and Marc to be walkers. Most of his posts begin with some form of “a stroll through…,” “our goal was to walk…,” or “just a short 3 miler today… .” Shulman explained that walking is good for his health and redirects his brain.
As he walks, he appreciates the beauty of people’s gardens and neighborhood homes. He stops and smells the roses. Talking with ARLnow, Shulman emphasized, “the small things are the important things.”
Now, after making a move from Rosslyn to their Ballston apartment in June, Shulman sees his Facebook page as a way to showcase how wonderful Arlington is and bring Arlingtonians together. It is a mix of Brooklyn, New York, and Palm Springs, California, with a close community and liveable climate.
Shulman and Marc hope “people will get off their behinds to start walking,” Shulman says. “Just learn and appreciate what Arlington has to offer.”
When the Taliban took over his native Afghanistan in August, Mir knew that he and his family needed to get out.
He was confident they would be a target because he was a contractor assisting the United Kingdom, United States, and NATO with communications and information technology.
“If I stayed in the country, the [Taliban] probably would have killed me,” he tells ARLnow (we are withholding his last name for privacy reasons).
After obtaining a visa, the family embarked on a harrowing journey that took them from the place they called home their entire lives to Northern Virginia. It was the first time that Mir had ever left Afghanistan.
While Mir, his wife, and his nine-month-old baby are now safe in America, they arrived here with nothing.
“I didn’t even have one dollar to buy a diaper for my son,” Mir says, speaking via Zoom from his Alexandria apartment.
That’s when Arlington Neighbors Welcoming Afghans (ANWA) got involved, a Facebook group created by military veteran Ryan Elizabeth Alvis to help Afghans resettle in the area.
“When Afghan families arrive, they [come] with nothing but the clothes on their back,” says Alvis, who lives in the Bluemont neighborhood. “We want to welcome these families in the way they deserve to our community. And that takes the involvement of the average citizen.”
This was all a grassroots effort. After seeing the images on television and knowing from her own experience serving in Afghanistan as a Marine in the early 2010s, Alvis knew she needed to help.
She reached out to other nonprofit groups that were organizing efforts. While waiting for a response back, Alvis created the Facebook group. Soon after, she got a tip about a newly arrived family in Reston who was looking for help and supplies. So, she organized an effort through the group to get the family what they needed.
Quickly, word spread.
“I got a phone call from another Afghan family who had been given my phone number,” she says. “And that’s how it grew… with cold calls.”
Since starting in October, about 500 ANWA members have helped 58 families resettle in Northern Virginia in ways big and small, everything from providing furniture to contributing money for food to navigating how to set up Wi-Fi.
In all, more than 4,000 Afghan refugees have resettled in Virginia over the last year, according to InsideNoVa.
When a new request comes in from a family, Alvis assigns “team leads” to help that family. In turn, those team leads post in the group asking for specific things the family needs. Alvis anticipates the group continuing to be active until at least April.
So far, the group has raised about $20,000 for food and household items and is raising more through GoFundMe.
It’s not simply dollars, though, that Arlington community members are contributing. It’s their time and effort.
Volunteers Karen Penn and Christy McIntyre are Mir and his family’s “team leads.” They make requests on the family’s behalf in the Facebook group for household items, organize drop-offs, and generally assist with anything that’s needed.
That includes helping to navigate the Metrobus system, which was understandably daunting for Mir.
Both Penn and McIntyre note how rewarding, humbling, and inspiring it is to spend time with the recent American arrivals.
“[Mir and his family] are really starting over. It’s just amazing how resilient they are,” says Penn, who lives in the Leeway-Overlee neighborhood.
McIntyre, who lives in Arlington Forest, says the experience has been eye-opening, realizing that something that may seem tiny can make a huge difference for someone.
“If everybody does something small, if a lot of people come together, we can do amazing things,” she says. “The Arlington community stepped up big, really big. And they continue to do so for other families. I’m just so proud of our community.”
For hours yesterday, Facebook-owned services, including the Instagram, WhatsApp, and original blue Facebook app, were knocked off the internet.
It was a throwback to the growing pains of Facebook, Twitter and other social networking services more than 10 years ago, when major technical snafus like this were more common.
The timing was also conspicuous, given that the outage came one day after a bombshell 60 Minutes episode in which a former employee levied a number of accusations, including that the company incentivizes “angry, polarizing, divisive content” in order to boost user engagement.
Here at ARLnow HQ, the primary effect of the outage was to disrupt our ability to post stories to our Facebook page and photos to our Instagram account. Also our readership dipped a bit, though not as much as one might imagine given how much traffic Facebook drives.
Elsewhere, though, one would think the widespread use of Facebook and Instagram as a time-filling utility — a quick break from work, a boredom reliever, etc. — actually resulted in some people being more productive during the workday while it was down. Does that include you?
Photo by Timothy Hales Bennett on Unsplash
Arlington residents say they are being plagued by mysterious bug bites featuring unusual red splotches that are itchier than those left by typical summer suckers.
A Facebook group, “Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19,” has helped community members with similar bites find each other, share information and try to get to the bottom of the mystery. There’s been similar chatter on local email listservs.
“I was so grateful to see that I wasn’t the only one experiencing this issue — and apparently many, many others feel the same way,” resident Becca Collins tells ARLnow.
The Facebook thread started on Sunday, when the original poster asked the group, “Anyone else finding that they’re getting bit by something while outdoors that is leaving a lingering mark?” She added that “this has happened to us multiple times in the last 10 days. The bite seems a lot different from your typical mosquito bite, leaving a red patch around the bite that’s been lasting for over a week (as well as the intense itchiness despite Benadryl, etc).”
The post has since received at least 160 responses and been shared eight times. A respondent said she went to an urgent care clinic “after a sleepless night due to the itching/burning bug bite on my neck, that swelled up into a small patch… It also had red itchy streaks reaching up to my lymph node that became swollen and painful.”
Another reported a similar story.
“Had my daughter at urgent care yesterday,” the poster wrote. “Her two bites look EXACTLY like everyone’s photos here. The doctor at urgent care said they’re seeing a lot of these bug bites.”
Receptionists at three local urgent care centers confirmed they’ve seen an influx in patients with bug bites.
“It is up this summer, more than usual,” said one receptionist for All Care Family Medicine & Urgent Care.
Another for Urgent Care Center of Arlington said “we don’t really know what type of bites they are. Patients come in for a bug bite, but they’re not sure if it’s a tick, mosquito or spider bite.”
Collins said hers was different from a tick bite, which is ringed by a clearly defined red circle. Hers and “many of these welts have ‘trailing red tails’ coming from them,” she said.
The Facebook group members have hatched a theory that these bites are tied to oak itch mites, or pyemotes, which are thought to feed on cicadas eggs. Similar outbreaks of itchy bug bites have coincided with periodic cicada cycles in Chicago and Northern Ohio.
“They are the gift that keeps on giving,” one resident tells ARLnow of the Brood X cicadas that swarmed the D.C. area. The cicadas may also be linked to a wave of dead birds this spring and summer.
These mites feed on insect larvae that inhabit oak trees, according to previous news reports and academic papers. And this year, with thousands upon thousands of eggs laid by cicadas, there was a veritable feast for the mites.
“Until I saw the post, I thought I was getting eaten by spiders in my sleep and was going to take some serious mitigation steps, but if the mite theory is correct, that saves me A LOT of work and worry,” one tipster told ARLnow.
Kurt Larrick, the assistant director of the county’s Department of Human Services, confirmed that residents are reporting these strange bites to the county. But county staff cannot say anything definitive yet about the phenomenon.
“We are tracking reports and consulting with internal and external subject matter experts,” he said. “However, there is no clear cut answer at this point.”
(Updated at 8:20 p.m.) The chairman of the Arlington GOP has been booted from the “Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19” Facebook group for threatening to expose those who file complaints about local businesses.
In a post on Sunday, one of the group’s moderators said that Andrew Loposser posted screenshots showing the names and contact information of people who filed complaints about COVID-related violations in Virginia. He also threatened to reveal information others who complain.
“We have removed and blocked the chairman of the Arlington County Republican Committee, Mr. Andrew Loposser, from Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19,” wrote moderator Joshua Farrar.
Threatening to dox and protest members of our community who report potential violations of our public health policies, developed and enacted in response to COVID-19, in the interest of public health, is entirely unacceptable. Comparisons of those who support public health restrictions on local business to Nazis are horrid and inappropriate, and diminish the experiences of Holocaust survivors, and are an affront to the memory of the millions of lives upended and extinguished, murdered, by Hitler and his machinery of extermination. We do not know how this individual was able to obtain complaint data and we do not know what other data this individual possesses. As such, we have reported this incident to local authorities.
Loposser appears to have also made a “Nazi” comparison in response to a post about Arlington’s new restrictions on sidewalk gatherings and queues.
Loposser tells ARLnow that he decided to write the post about those filing complaints to combat what he described as a culture of “hysteria” over the pandemic.
“I believe people who are fomenting hysteria across Virginia and in our community should be criticized for creating an unsafe environment surrounding coronavirus guidelines,” he said. “The ‘Arlington Neighbors’ Facebook group is… being driven by misinformed busybodies who are wreaking havoc on businesses they don’t like. I posted about those busybodies, and the partisan admins block people they don’t agree with.”
Though outdoor gatherings are believed to be safer than indoor gatherings during the pandemic, a number of recent posts on the Facebook group have focused on outdoor behavior perceived as risky.
“I was out walking in my neighborhood and a rude runner ran literally right up on me, close enough I felt him breathe on me on an exhale,” wrote one user. “Should I be worried about being breathed on? Ew. I’m obviously annoyed and shaken, especially since I was a bit startled.”
Comments about the encounter were split between those criticizing runners and cyclists who don’t wear masks and those who do not believe such momentary outdoor encounters are likely to spread the disease.
“Hi, does anyone think The Lot in Clarendon is a nightmare and coronavirus mega spreader?” asked another user, regarding the outdoor beer garden, in a post that received more than 100 comments.
“Businesses like The Lot are being constantly harassed… with no regard to state or federal guidelines on outdoor gatherings,” Loposser said. “There are dozens of posts in the ‘Arlington Neighbors’ group driving this ridiculous narrative… The group used to be a net positive in our community, and it’s devolved to ‘Lord of the Flies.'”
Loposser said the Facebook group is private and “can do what they want,” but decried treatment of those skeptical of the prevailing views around ways to prevent COVID-19 infections.
“People with minority viewpoints are constantly personally attacked in this group,” he said. “It’s certainly a microcosm of the kind of intolerance we see in liberal communities like Arlington… Stepping outside the majority groupthink will get you personally belittled and attacked.”
The “Arlington Neighbors” group has been trying to combat toxic discourse that seems endemic to any online forum of a certain size in 2020. In a new post this morning, co-founder Kellen MacBeth outlined new posting guidelines intended to make the group a more welcoming and helpful place.
Among them: no posting photos of people “with the intent to shame” and no “unverified information about businesses or COVID-19 that could cause harm.”
When it was founded, the Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19 Facebook group was an uplifting place where local residents could ask for help, share information, and connect with one another.
Now, as with just about any online forum of a certain size, the events of 2020 have darkened the skies over the formerly sunny space.
Contentious arguments break out, public shaming is a common occurrence, and at least one member had her employer contacted by someone upset at a post.
Granted, there are still plenty of heartwarming, helpful and innocuous posts. In fact, there are more posts than most people can keep track of — everything from school opening discussions to questions about car dealerships. But the darker side of online forums has nonetheless crept in.
“I think that there has been an increase in divisiveness,” conceded Kellen MacBeth, co-founder of the group, which now has more than 11,000 members. “It is likely driven by several factors — the increased size of the group and that the ‘coming together’ attitude that characterized March and much of April has been wearing off.”
“When the pandemic first hit, people were scared, searching for answers, and ready to help each other survive,” MacBeth continued. “Now that it’s become a somewhat ‘regular’ threat, people have settled back into routines less focused on getting through a crisis as a community and more so just trying to live life in this new normal. We also saw that as the size of the group increased, you inevitably get trolls and other people who join and don’t share the group’s values.”
The divisiveness isn’t just about the group’s size and the pandemic’s progression, though. It’s also about the many unknowns still surrounding COVID-19, leading to a cacophony of competing warnings and indignations, as well as the politicization of the virus. And it’s about those other big 2020 news stories: the Black Lives Matter movement and mass protests, and a heated presidential election.
Even though Arlington is a progressive stronghold, with social justice signs common even in the yards of the county’s more conservative neighborhoods, BLM-related posts in particular seem to frequently lead to online confrontation.
Last week Arlington Magazine published an essay by local resident Olamide Goke-Pariola, who recounted the vitriol she faced while “talking about racial justice and challenging my mostly white neighbors to think critically about their role in white supremacy” in the group.
“They consistently dismissed my lived experience,” she wrote. “One neighbor even told me my comments were ‘noise.'”
The “Arlington Neighbors” group is not alone in turning into a dumpster fire at times, however.
Things got so bad at the popular Fairlington Appreciation Society neighborhood Facebook group, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, that its moderators shut it down for good. Before it closed, the group hosted battle royales on posts about social justice, with online shouting matches that were a digital counterpart to the battle over signs on a bridge playing out in the physical world nearby.
Even the usually chipper Mothers of North Arlington email listserv started to see moms turning on one another. The group faced accusations that it was dismissive of calls for social justice during the George Floyd protests and that it deleted a Black woman’s Facebook post on the subject.
ARLnow has seen its own share of added divisiveness. A half dozen commenters have been permanently banned for a pattern of racist comments over the past couple of months. Others have been placed on comment timeouts for engaging in extended flame wars. And there has been an uptick in criticism of our articles, with commenters on the site and Facebook questioning our coronavirus reporting and savaging our reporting about multiple COVID-19 cases at a private swim club.
Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) are not the only ones to have mistakenly posted photos of the late Elijah Cummings while trying to honor John Lewis, who died on Friday.
Local state Sen. Barbara Favola (D) posted a photo on Facebook over the weekend that she said was Lewis, the civil rights leader and Georgia congressman, at her house four years ago.
“I had the honor of hosting John Lewis for a fundraiser at my home in 2016,” wrote Favola, who represents a portion of Arlington in the state Senate. “Congress must restore the Voting Rights Act and each of us must uphold John Lewis’ legacy each and every election by casting a ballot.”
The problem: the photo actually showed Cummings, the former Maryland congressman who died in October.
The mistake was pointed out in a comment by Julius Spain, Sr., the head of the Arlington chapter of the NAACP. The post was subsequently taken down.
Spain said he spoke to Favola about the error Saturday night.
“She apologized stating it was a mistake,” he told ARLnow.
Online Forums Devolve into Shouting Matches — Falls Church News-Press columnist Charlie Clark writes about how a Nextdoor post about kids not wearing masks during a baseball game erupted into a barrage of insults and debates among neighbors. Nextdoor is not alone in becoming a forum for heated local debates on hot button issues: last month the popular Fairlington Appreciation Society Facebook group shut down after flame wars broke out over issues related to the Black Lives Matter protests. [Falls Church News-Press]
Virtual ‘Arlington Cares’ Event Tomorrow — “This free, virtual event will recognize the 2020 Community Service Award Winners and remind us of the importance of serving others. A heartwarming opportunity for all ages that will celebrate the overwhelming goodness that is within our community.” [Event Calendar]
Reduction in Homelessness Prior to Pandemic — “For the 20th consecutive year, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) Homeless Services Planning and Coordinating Committee has conducted a regional Point-in-Time (PIT) enumeration of the area’s residents experiencing homelessness and those who were formerly homeless. This year’s enumeration and survey occurred on January 22, 2020. Arlington saw a 7-percent reduction in overall homelessness, down from 215 persons in 2019 to 199 in 2020.” [Arlington County]
More Flood Damage in Waverly Hills — “After countless floods in Arlington’s Waverly Hills neighborhood soaked his basement, Tom Reich finally ordered a custom-made waterproof door to protect his home’s bottom level.
On Tuesday, the day before it was scheduled to arrive, yet another storm dumped buckets of rain on the region — and especially on 18th Street North. There, overwhelmed storm water mains sent three feet of water coursing down the street.” [Washington Post]
Beyer Furious at Response to Shooting Inquiry — “‘For nearly three years Bijan Ghaisar’s family and community have sought answers from federal authorities about why these officers killed Bijan and what consequences they will face. This response which tells us nothing after an eight-month delay is an insult to the people we represent,’ said [Rep. Don] Beyer. ‘The contempt such a pathetic answer shows for public transparency and accountability is unacceptable and will further damage the standing of the U.S. Park Police at a time when the region’s trust in them is already at an all-time low.'” [House of Representatives]
Report Businesses Flouting the Rules, Gov. Says — “As Virginia starts seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Ralph Northam reiterated Friday what has become a familiar message about limiting crowds, washing hand frequently and wearing face coverings. But he added a new fourth point: Report businesses flouting the rules to the local health department.” [InsideNova]
Freddie’s Closes Temporarily — “Out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to close temporarily. One of our employees has tested positive for COVID-19. We are actively reaching out to customers and staff who may have been in contact since Wednesday July 8. We are beginning the process to have the restaurant fully sanitized so we may safely reopen as soon as possible.” [Facebook]
Nearby: MoCo Starting School Year Online — “Montgomery County students will begin the next academic year online, with a phased approach to bring them back to school buildings part-time by the end of November, according to the school district’s draft plan released Saturday.” [Bethesda Magazine]
Black Lives Matter Live Chat with ACPD — “Yolande Kwinana will interview Chief Jay Farr and Andy Penn on the current situation regarding police brutality and what ACPD is doing to protect the Arlington African American people. I encourage Arlingtonians to send in questions during the live and in the discussion tab before the live chat.” [Facebook]
N. Va. Unemployment Rate Rises — “Northern Virginia’s unemployment rate hit 10% in April as business shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic ricocheted through the economy. A total of 163,158 Northern Virginia residents were unemployed and looking for work during the month, the Virginia Employment reported Wednesday.” [InsideNova]
Nearby: Movie Theater Unlikely to Reopen — “The Regal Potomac Yard movie theater appears to have shown its last picture. Regal Cinemas has scrubbed the 16-theater multiplex at 3575 Potomac Ave. from its list of Virginia locations on its website. Couple that with the fact Virginia Tech and JBG Smith Properties plan to redevelop the North Potomac Yard site on an accelerated timeline, it’s likely the theater showed its last film months ago.” [Washington Business Journal]
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:
- A first-hand account of a resident’s experience after contracting COVID-19
- Another first-hand account of going through Arlington’s drive-through testing site
- A doctor’s account of what’s happening inside Virginia Hospital Center
- A post seeking furnished rentals for State Department employees returning home from overseas en masse
- An alert about masks available at a local hardware store in Courthouse
- A call for volunteers to help deliver meals to the volunteers manning the county’s coronavirus hotline (703-228-7999)
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.”