Eventually xiao qu groups and businesses worked together to coordinate group purchasing. When it wasn’t feasible for grocery stores to make deliveries to individuals, members of the xiao qus pooled their orders for a single transaction with supermarkets. Sign-up sheets were made for bulk ordering of eggs, milk, and cleaning supplies. Soon the practice spread to bakeries, restaurants, and, most importantly, pharmacies.
The xiao qu groups made people feel less lonely and more connected during a time of extended isolation. So while we may not have an exact cousin of the xiao qu outside of China, we can still create similar groups to help us weather the coronavirus storm.
When New York City began instituting social distancing and staying at home, I set up my own neighborhood xiao qu. I borrowed what I’d learned from my researchers in Wuhan, and connected nearby friends and neighbors within walking distance on WhatsApp where we vetted information, shared updates on local store inventory, and checked in on those who felt ill. I’ve incorporated practices that work well in the online communities I use for work, including asking participants to agree to a code of conduct, maintaining a directory of all participants, and organizing the most frequently asked questions into a shared Google Doc.
Our group includes families, people who live alone, and people with immunocompromised systems. We have discussed topics ranging from which local stores have hand sanitizers to interesting activities to do with one’s kids. We have solved problems such as how to determine if a mask manufacturer is credible or not, how to safely send laundry to the laundromat, and which local organizations need help. People have asked the group what they should do if they feel sick. When levity is needed, members have organized virtual dance parties like tfw.nyc or told others which webcams show the cutest baby animals.
In the short time that our local network has been up, it has inspired a few other groups in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. All of us manage our groups a little differently, but the Wuhan template remains the same: a small group of neighbors supporting one another during a time when movement is restricted, and knowledge of one’s immediate area is crucial.
Having lived through SARS and contracted H1N1, I know from personal experience that hyperlocal contacts can mean the difference between life and death. When you’re sick and scared during a quarantine, it could likely be your neighbor, not your sister who lives three states away or overwhelmed health practitioners at hospitals who could help you in that moment. Many of us keep in touch with friends and colleagues across the globe but have never really gotten to know the people on our street or in our building. That needs to change, and fast.
Federal and state responses to coronavirus are becoming more organized, but the magnitude of this crisis requires massively sustained bottom-up efforts too. This is why mutual-aid networks, caremongering, local delivery for at-risk populations, and neighborhood slack groups are being activated like wildfire across the US.
We participate in tons of social networks as lurkers, broadcasters, or participants – tiny drops in a sea of anonymity. But right now, following isn’t enough. Hyperlocal groups create an opportunity to find commonality with those who live within walking distance, the people who most need your help and who are in the best position to help you. During uncertain times like these, we don’t just need to look to scientists, governments, and industry for leadership, we also need to look to each other.
If you’re ready to start your own hyperlocal community network, here are step-by-step instructions with a link to a template and best practices.