March 16, 2020

Neighborliness in a Time of Pandemic Panic, or, Calling Mr. Rogers

Note_from_Neighbor.jpegA friend of mine who lives on the West Coast posted the most wonderful thing to Facebook yesterday. She had written notes to her neighbors to say, in effect, “We’re here. Call if you need us. You’re not alone.

I was so touched by her gesture, and I plan to do the same. What a lesson in how to be neighborly in this time of pandemic preparedness—and panic.

What can we do? A few suggestions follow.

Help others

  • Support health care workers. In the U.S.,Direct Relief is delivering protective masks—along with exam gloves and isolation gowns—to health care organizations in areas with confirmed COVID-19 cases.
  • Many colleges have set up special funds for students in need of assistance to get home, store their things, pay unexpected bills. Check with your alma mater.
  • Volunteer at a food pantry: bring food donations to one of the many serving families in need or serve as a delivery driver
  • Offer to get groceries or other goods (or pay to have them delivered) to an elderly neighbor
  • Contribute to The Bail Project, a revolving fund that provides bail to low-income people confined to jail solely because they don’t have cash to pay bail. Why pitch this now? Because our jails are like a giant cruise ship and if coronavirus spreads there, everyone will be stuck. The Bail Project evaluates prospects and works with people who have a support network outside of jail—families or loved ones to vouch for them and make sure these individuals appear in court. Since June, the Bail Project has assisted 407 people in Illinois to go home to their families.

    This project is not just a matter of criminal justice reform—though it is certainly that—but also now an urgent matter of reducing an imminent public health threat. (You can stipulate that your contribution should be applied to: The Bail Project Illinois only.)

    Checks should be made out to The Bail Project and mailed to:
    The Bail Project
    Attn: Development—Illinois site
    PO Box 750
    Venice, CA 90294

    If you want to know more about this worthy project, contact Peter Hoyt at or (847) 274-1131.

Get outside and embrace nature

  • It’s still okay to go outside, just not in groups or close proximity to others. What better way to embrace the advent of spring than by taking a long walk in a nearby forest preserve? The forest preserves themselves are still open, as are the outdoor paths at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Do notice trillium or spring beauty emerging in the forest understory? At dusk, do you hear the woodcock’s mating flight and anxious peentpeent near the edge of an open meadow bordering oak woodlands? Can you discern high overhead the unique cry of sandhill cranes migrating north or in ponds nearby the insistent call of spring peepers and chorus frogs? Pope Francis has called Earth our common home—what better time to reconnect and remember how dear it is to us and we are to each other?

Save water

  • Join me in taking MWRD Commissioner Josina Morita's Million Gallon Challenge to save a million gallons of water for World Water Day March 22nd. Sign up at

    Even as we’re using more water washing our hands many times each day, there are plenty of ways to save water.

    Josina’s team will provide 20 challenges that only take minutes each to reduce your water footprint and save hundreds, even thousands, of gallons at a time. For example, eating salmon instead of steak for one meal saves 500 gallons of water. Buying one less pair of jeans a year saves 2,000 gallons of water. Replacing your pet’s wet food with dry food for one meal a day saves over 5,000 gallons of water a week.

    Author’s note: I don’t know why so many people are loading up on bottled water. It’s crazy! Tap water in the Chicago region is perfectly fine. If you’re worried, you can always boil water.

Read, listen, and ponder

  • As I will be spending the next few weeks sheltering in place (and walking outside and seeking to be neighborly in a social distancing way), these are the books on my stack to read:

    Eat Like a Fish, My Adventures As a Fisherman Turned Restorative Ocean Farmer by Bren Smith

    The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For, How a New Generation of Leaders Will Transform America by Charlotte Alter (Note: Charlotte Alter’s grandmother, Joanne Alter, was the first Democratic woman elected countywide in Cook County to a seat on the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Sanitary District in 1972. I knew and revered Joanne, who endorsed me when I ran in 2006.)

    Out of Many Faiths, Religious Diversity & The American Promise by Eboo Patel

    If you’re looking for gripping suspense novels, try several by Irish writer Tana French: The Likeness or The Witch Elm

    As background and commentary for our times, I recommend These Truths, A History of the United States by Jill Lepore

Stay connected

  • I’m here for you—remotely, that is: Send me your questions about water and sewage and our changing climate and high lake levels. I’ll do my best to answer them.