People are posting flyers to help neighbors during the pandemic
Flyers put up in Berkeley by, left to right, Jason Scott, Sheherazade and Miguel. Photos: Tracey Taylor and Annie Burke

There’s a lot of talk right now about how the internet has come into its own during the coronavirus age, helping to keep people connected and informed. But more traditional, analog means of communication have also seen a renaissance during these days of being cloistered at home, avoiding human contact. 

Three people who all live in North Berkeley but who have never met, recently took it upon themselves to post flyers near their homes encouraging neighbors to reach out to them, whether by phone or email. Paper and pen was the medium and the flyers had a simple message: “I’m here if you need anything. Call me.”

We spoke with these three good samaritans and asked them what motivated them to post the flyers on power poles in their community, and what sort of response they had had.

Jason Scott: “Really, truly don’t hesitate to call”

“It was a spontaneous decision,” said Jason Scott who has lived in his North Berkeley neighborhood for about seven years and started posting flyers on street poles there not long after the shelter-in-place order went into effect on March 17. 

“I was focused on my family and getting everything ready and thinking about how we could protect ourselves, then I realized: I’ve done everything I can do, I’m working remotely, I have extra time, there’s more that I could be doing to help, I’m not a doctor or nurse, but maybe my neighbors need a hand? How can I help them?”

Jason’s flyer reads in part, “If you need help or want someone to talk to, please call me… We’re all in this together. (Really, truly don’t hesitate to call.)”

By early April he had had about half a dozen responses. Some people simply called to thank him for his kind act; others, he said, let him know that they didn’t need anything right now, but that it was good to know there was someone out there who they could call on. He has also received a couple of requests to have ongoing conversations from neighbors who are feeling socially isolated. “They’ve been very appreciative of having someone to talk to,” he says.

Jason, who is a teacher at Bentley School in Oakland, posted many of the flyers on outings by bike with his 7-year-old son, who, he said, was excited to help with this project. “It was an opportunity to explore an aspect of what it means to help the community.”

Jason did wonder whether flyers were the best way to reach elderly people, those most at risk of COVID-19 and therefore those most likely to be in self-quarantine mode — perhaps they wouldn’t be connecting with others through technology? Having said that, they might not be outside much either. The whole thing was an experiment. 

He has no qualms about connecting with people. “I’m a teacher so I talk to people all day,” he said, and he’s become aware of how being sequestered can affect people. “A lot of my friends are extroverts and I see how they’re struggling with isolation,” he said

He’s hoping others might be inspired by his flyers. “It’s such a simple thing to do. I hope others might do something similar every few blocks — it would be good for people to know they are not alone.”

Sheherazade: “I’m down to chat and read you medieval tales”

Scheherazade posted a flyer on a pole near her house in mid-March. It reads, in part, “If you are in a vulnerable category and need help having groceries, etc. brought to you … please reach out!” She added an addendum: ‘If you’re feeling isolated, I’m also down to chat and read you medieval tales.”

“I have the time and the energy and I’m not in a high-risk category and there’s been a lack of formalized government response,” she said when Berkeleyside asked her why she did it.

“Those at high risk still need food and medicine and they shouldn’t have to risk lives or drain their wallets to find them,” she said

Scheherazade, who asked that we not use her last name, said she hoped people feel like there are others around them who have their best interest in mind.

“It’s hard to ask for help ,” she said, adding that she feels this is particularly true culturally in the US.  

With only one flyer up when Berkeleyside spoke to her, Scheherazade had not yet had any response.

Like Jason Scott , Scheherazade is a teacher — she works at a local pre-school, and she thinks there’s a causality there. “No-one teaches for the money — I teach because we care about the health and wellbeing of our communities,” she said as a way of explaining her motivation in posting the flyer. “It makes sense that I would do this.”

Until recently, Scheherazade also had two other jobs, both in food service. She quit one of them because of health concerns

She said she hopes to see more people reaching out to the elderly. Her mother who lives nearby, and is in the high-risk category, has been relying on food delivery services but the recent strikes at companies like Instacart, have impacted her. “She didn’t want to ‘cross the picket line,’ but there’s a reason she was using their service,” Scheherazade said. 

Miguel Heleno: “It was a natural thing to do”

Miguel Heleno has put up about eight flyers in his neighborhood. He started doing so the day before the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order was announced. The North Berkeley resident is originally from Portugal and had been keeping up with friends in Europe who were experiencing the frightening impact of COVID-19 before the US.  

“I was listening to the news from Europe and there were a lot of people at higher risk,” he said.  “Friends in Portugal and Italy were putting up flyers — people were sharing it online — so I thought it was a natural thing to do.”

 “I don’t think people then were aware of how bad it was; now they are,” said Miguel, who did a post-doctorate at Berkeley Lab and is now working locally.

He wrote on his flyer, “Dear neighbor, I am in my 30s and do not belong to the groups at higher risk for COVID-19… As everyone else, I will be at home for the next few weeks… I have decided to help more vulnerable neighbors to reduce exposure to the virus…. Just text or call me. We are all in this together. Stay safe. Solidarity. Miguel.”

So far he has few calls, texts and emails in response.   

“People are saying, thank you — I am in that situation and I know now that if I need help I can get it,” he said. Others praised him for what he was doing and asked if he needed any help. “I said, why don’t you do the same thing around your place?,” he said.

Miguel is surprised he didn’t hear from more elderly people and worries that it’s because they are going out. “I understand,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to go out and talk to others, but the dilemma is that older people are more at risk.”

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...