Opinion: 10 ideas for strengthening community in these COVID-19 times

Fabio Speziali, owner of Osteria Romantica in La Jolla Shores, readies an order as the Italian restaurant now only offers takeout to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Commentary writer Mimi Sells encourages people to support local restaurants that have stayed open for takeout as a way to strengthen community.
(Photo by Daniel K. Lew)

Guest commentary:

A few weeks ago, La Jolla Light published my opinion piece suggesting “10 ideas for revitalizing Bird Rock’s shopping district along La Jolla Blvd.”

I was overwhelmed by the positive response. There were letters of support and also invitations to meet Bird Rock’s merchants, council members and residents.

Empty storefronts are bad for business. And bad for the communities they serve. We moved to Bird Rock nearly one year ago from the Bay Area and have loved the small town feel of our new community. We love the walkability to shops and restaurants, and the spectacular ocean views. But in our year here, we’ve also seen more barren storefronts and struggling merchants. While I can’t magically make new businesses locate here, I do have some ideas for generating a more businesses that will engage locals and visitors alike to our charming village by the sea. It will take the energy and creativity of our local community, businesses and landlords to make these changes but all are possible.

Feb. 19, 2020

And then the coronavirus hit. The whole concept of community gathering spaces and retail revitalization seems ripped to shreds.

Our entire lives have been upended. Restaurants — the few that are able — are doing takeout. Struggling merchants are closing their doors or reducing their hours. Community seems to have taken a back seat to social distancing.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe this great global experiment in social distancing will open new doors to creating community. Maybe our human ability to support one another in times of need is greater than our fears. I believe we can flatten the COVID-19 curve even while strengthening our social bonds.

Here are my 10 ideas for building community. This time, they are not just for Bird Rock. I encourage you to share them with friends and family in disparate parts of our city, state and nation:

1. Support your local restaurants that are staying open for takeout. Don’t cook tonight, call your favorite dine-out delight to take out or pick up. And leave a generous tip to help cover the loss of revenue from the shuttering of sit-down service.

2. Support food service workers. Food service workers were hit hard and early. So many hospitality workers have been laid off or furloughed. Support your favorite baristas, bartenders or waiters by writing a generous check, even if you only know their first name. Drop it off or mail it to the restaurant or cafe, which can pass on these needed funds.

3. Pay the displaced service people who are there for you year-round. Countless personal service businesses have been sidelined by social distancing. These include your hairdresser/barber, cleaning person or service, personal trainer or massage therapist. You know where they work, so mail a check or, better yet, Venmo them. Every little bit helps to pay the rent.

4. Help a neighbor in need. Senior citizens and people with disabilities may need help shopping. Sure, there are senior hours at many shops, but many can’t get out their own door. If you are healthy and able, you can be a helping hand. Remember to give them a warm hello at the door with your drop-off.

5. Those who are tech-savvy can help those who are not. At the first sign of the COVID shutdown, I opened a Zoom account so I could easily set up group meetings with friends and family near and far. When we’re all sheltering in place, distance doesn’t matter in virtual chat rooms. FaceTime and Google Hangouts are other online gathering spots waiting for you to sit and chat awhile.

6. Help hungry children and families with food donations. Give to great organizations such as No Kid Hungry, Meals on Wheels, World Food Kitchen or other local organizations that provide free meals or groceries.

7. Do a small act of kindness every day. We’re all walking solo these days and keeping our distance. But that doesn’t mean you can’t say “hi” to one another and wish folks to “stay safe.” Walking around with your head down and your eyes on screens deprives you and others of a moment of direct human connection.

8. Share your garden’s bounty. Our neighborhood is flooded with blooming citrus trees of amazing variety. Put some fruit out each day by the street or drop off a bag for a neighbor. Citrus fruits have thick skins so they are easy to thoroughly wash for 20 seconds. Give a gift of vitamin C and help keep everyone’s immunity up.

9. If you are able to buy in bulk, share some of the haul. We ended up with a flat of Costco tuna thanks to a generous friend. Now we’re giving some cans to neighbors. No one needs to eat that much tuna. Have a ton of toilet paper? Share a roll or two with neighbors.

10. Share jokes, happy videos, creative activities for kids and movie and book ideas. We all get plenty of hard news (and it gets harder daily) from official sources. What we need from friends and neighbors are reminders of our humanity, ingenuity and humor. This is what makes us resilient in tough times.

Those are my ideas and I’d love to hear yours. You can reach me at

Mimi Sells is a marketing/branding consultant who moved to Bird Rock in 2019.

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Commentaries published in La Jolla Light express views from readers about community matters. To share your thoughts in this public forum, email them with your name and city of residence to Submissions of related photos also are welcome. Commentaries reflect the writers’ opinions and not necessarily those of the newspaper staff or publisher.