Last week, on the night when the NBA abruptly announced they were suspending the season, I was sitting in a restaurant with friends. Of course, the pandemic was a major topic of conversation, and all the more so as we saw the NBA’s announcement popping up on television screens around us. We’d been discussing our employers’ plans to move to work-from-home and the various ways our lives were starting to be disrupted. And then, one of my friends said something I’ve been chewing on since. “You know who can’t afford to miss three weeks of work? Our server.”
I live in a pretty comfortable middle class bubble. I do all of my work from home anyway. My husband, like most of our friends, does go to an office everyday, but his work is on a computer, so moving to work-from-home is no big deal. We’re unlikely to see any change in our income or our ability to pay our bills over the coming weeks or months of this pandemic.
But for many, that’s not the case at all. As people begin “social distancing,” restaurant employees will be hit hard. Similarly, the people who work at your gym or in many local shops will find their shifts cut or their jobs eliminated altogether. Employees at movie theaters or arenas – any sort of entertainment venue that’s shuttered – will see their income evaporate. Some small business owners will be devastated. Consider the owner of a local dance studio for kids who has to cancel classes, or people who work in the travel industry. Basically, think of everything you’re either not doing or doing less. The people who provide those goods and services are likely to be the ones affected the most.
I take all of this one step further, too. Over the past few years, as my husband and I have worked with vulnerable families in crisis, we’ve seen how a lost job can trigger a domino effect of missed rent payments, leading to eviction, leading to living out of a car, leading to children being brought into foster care. Even parents whose jobs aren’t threatened may face some very difficult choices. With schools closed indefinitely, do they stay home and risk losing a job? Or do they go to work and leave their kids unsupervised? Either choice could result in their children being removed from the home.
Which brings me to the question of what it means to love my neighbors in the midst of a global pandemic. I’ve heard a lot of Christians talking about the importance of loving our neighbors by staying home, sacrificing the things we’d normally do in order to protect the more vulnerable people around us. That should absolutely be part of our thinking. It was for exactly this reason that my church and many others opted to cancel services last weekend and provide sermons and music online. I think that was the right call.
But my husband and I have also very deliberately chosen to continue to patronize restaurants through takeout and delivery. We’re doing this because we know that the people working there desperately need our business, now more than ever. Each day, we consider the state of things, we talk about the risks, and we consider whether it makes sense to carry on with our normal activities. So far, we’ve cancelled some and continued others.
We’ve also talked a lot about other ways to help our neighbors, and I’m encouraged by much of what I see – people who have reached out to single parents to offer assistance with childcare, groups who are helping to provide meals for healthcare professionals who find themselves extremely stretched all of a sudden, and churches who are partnering with nearby employers to offer childcare so parents can continue to work. I’ve seen lots of people suggesting that now is a great time to buy gift cards, injecting cash into businesses in the short term without having to even leave your home, or to use delivery services to have things brought directly to you.
I think it’s also a time to consider our charitable giving. Many organizations are already working with the most vulnerable groups, so they’re best placed right now to meet needs on the ground. Increasing our giving to these sorts of organizations can help to alleviate some of the very real suffering our neighbors are enduring. At the same time, those same organizations are likely losing important sources of revenue. Consider, for example, the number of major marathons worldwide that have been cancelled. These raise millions of dollars for charity each year. And that’s before we think of all the local fundraising events that will be cancelled before this is over. Local charities need us to maintain, or even increase, our giving at this time.
Of course, there are no easy answers. Certainly, we can’t just carry on life as normal. To do so would be reckless, risking not only our own health but also the health of the more physically vulnerable people around us. However, to completely shut down has consequences, too, particularly for the more economically vulnerable. As we all try to navigate the coming weeks, we need to think broadly about how our communities are being affected, how we can help to “flatten the curve” while still supporting jobs, and about where we can offer practical assistance for those whose lives are being far more seriously disrupted than our own.
If we do that, perhaps we’ll even find some unexpected blessing in the richer community we’ll foster as a results.
POVs are point of view articles from NC Family staff and contributors