By Sam Woods
Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
Editor’s note: At Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, we intentionally celebrate ordinary people who do extraordinary things. We are especially interested in our neighbors who are making a difference as we all deal with the effects of COVID-19. Please let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since Tonia Matthews moved to Metcalfe Park over 12 years ago, she’s noticed how the neighborhood has changed.
“Neighbors are more friendly and comfortable with each other,” Matthews said. “The elderly come out of their homes now. People stop to talk with you. It’s cleaner.”
She attributes some of these changes to the Metcalfe Park Community Bridges. The neighborhood group, which traces its roots to the Obama administration’s Building Neighborhood Capacity Program in 2011, has emerged as a vital resource for residents.
An extrovert who spent much of her time on the porch greeting neighbors, Matthews joined Metcalfe Park Community Bridges as a “block builder.” Her job was to stay in touch with residents and keep founder Danell Cross updated.
Rapid change in real time
Face-to-face interaction has always been a key focus of the group. But with residents forced to stay home because of COVID-19, Metcalfe Park Community Bridges has been forced to change its approach. And quickly.
An organization that prides itself on face-to-face relationships, Metcalfe Park Community Bridges is now figuring out how to stay connected to its neighbors in an era of social distancing.
It’s switched primarily to texting neighbors using the app Hustle.
While leaders can now easily communicate with thousands of residents at once through texting, Melody McCurtis, deputy director and organizer, said her group’s authenticity has sometimes been challenged.
“Is this really Melody?” McCurtis recalled someone asking, “We had to convince some people that it was really us.”
However after getting over those initial communication barriers, Metcalfe Park Community Bridges is learning to be more effective in its digital organizing.
In addition to text-banking residents, leaders started Be the Bridge Community Care, a mutual aid network specifically for Metcalfe Park.
To request aid, residents fill out a survey, and Metcalfe Park Community Bridges goes to work to get the food or supplies requested. McCurtis said there have been 129 responses to the survey already.
The Jewish Community Pantry, El Rey and United Way have donated to the cause.
Cross and McCurtis said the COVID-19 crisis has changed their approach going forward. Even after the quarantine ends, they said, they will still use Hustle and the mutual aid survey.
“We are part of the community’s support system,” Cross said. “We can’t just drop and go home. The digital survey and texting allow us to stay with our neighbors right now, and we’re capturing so much more.”
How to help
To support Metcalfe Park Community Bridges, you can donate to its PayPal, drop off supplies at 3624 W North Ave. or text Melody at (414) 488-5582 for other ways to support. You can find what supplies are needed most here.