Garden City neighbors organize evening strolls to look after each other — at a safe distance

Posted at 3:45 PM, Mar 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-29 17:50:42-04

GARDEN CITY, Idaho — This article was originally published by Katherine Jones of the Idaho Statesman.

One evening last week, Rachael Bickerton and her husband took their 4-year-old son, their fluffy new puppy and their older dog for a walk down the street in their neighborhood near Plantation Country Club. It wasn’t really anything out of the ordinary.

Except the results were different.

A couple of their neighbors, to whom they rarely speak, according to Bickerton, were sitting on their front porch with their pets. At the new socially acceptable distance, they struck up a little conversation. As the family walked on, Bickerton thought to herself how nice it was to make the effort to connect.

“That was really when the idea formed,” she said.

Bickerton sent an email to her Homeowners Association and the 6 p.m. “curbside cocktail hour” was born. It’s nothing more than some of the neighbors walking their dogs up and down the street — properly separated and staggered so they’re not in a big group — and stopping to chat with other neighbors.

“Yeah, at 6 o’clock, we see everyone coming out,” Bickerton said. “In front gardens and driveways, people are out there with garden chairs and glasses of wine.”

The first one was two Thursdays ago. By that Friday, a dozen families were involved.

“I just like the idea of people being able to just check on each other in a friendly neighborhood way,” she said.

Bickerton works from home negotiating Coca-Cola partnership agreements with universities. “Normally, I travel a lot,” she said. “Obviously, I don’t travel now, so it was the first time I was really home every single day. I was like, oh, yeah, this can be quite lonely.”

She also realized that getting outside was important for her mental health.

“I have, in the past, been susceptible to mild depression or anxiety, I guess, as I think many people do. This selfishly forces me to go out,” she said. “I mean, we’re out walking the dogs anyway, but it gives me structure in the day.”

Bickerton then laughed, and said, “So at 5:45, we’re all running around — we’ve got to get ready, we’ve got to get ready.”

The rewards have been surprising.

Bickerton discovered that she lives a few doors from Mike Strong, whose daughter, Erin Smith, and granddaughter, Autumn McCall, were among four people who died in an propane gas explosion at Tamarack Resort in July 2017. In his daughter’s memory, Strong started a foundation to help military families adopt children, as his daughter had.

“You suddenly realize how you know so little about your neighbors. That blew me away,” Bickerton said. “It was shocking that we didn’t know and we did nothing to help him at the time. We weren’t there for him. …

“(Now) we want to band together and help him.”

Bickerton said she was surprised with her need to bring the community together.

She was living and working in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, and saw the planes go into the World Trade Center. When she finally got home, she sat in her tiny apartment, too scared to go out.

“Very similar to now,” she said. “Not knowing and watching the news, and rewatching the news, and getting very anxious.”

Then her downstairs NYC neighbor knocked on her door. “And literally thrust her newborn baby in my arms and said, ‘You need to hold life.’

“And I remember that moment of holding, just holding something — someone. …

“I was thinking about it last night. I wonder if that pushed me to this need to see people and ensure that my neighborhood — that my family — is safe.”

As if that weren’t enough, Bickerton finished the Boston Marathon 45 minutes before the homemade bombs went off near the finish line in April 2013, killing three people and injuring hundreds. She was with a group of runners from Boise.

“We all ended up in the same hotel room and again, I just think I needed them to keep me going,” she said. “We needed our friendship, we needed to be together. To help us through unbelievably difficult times.”

She pauses. “This is nothing,” she said, “compared to Sept. 11 and the Boston bombing. This is just us having to stay in our house and try to stay sane and healthy.”

Bickerton’s family is in isolation in England and she has friends in Europe. “From their stories,” she wrote in the HOA email, “keeping an eye on each other, and ensuring there is social interaction for those who want it and need it — will help us through these uncertain times.”

Bickerton sent a copy of her HOA email to a friend in another part of the neighborhood, and that inspired the friend to organize a different neighborhood stroll. Another neighbor has a real estate company with many employees in Eagle, and the idea spread there.

“I think a lot of people should do it,” Bickerton said.

The neighbors are already starting to talk about how they want this tradition to continue, perhaps as a weekly Thursday night or Friday night stroll, even after the pandemic subsides.

“It’s been really nice for everyone to get together in solidarity,” Bickerton said.

She wrote in her email: “What a great way to build our already strong neighborhood. And once this is over, we look forward to the post-coronavirus street party!”

Photo courtesy: Darin Oswald