Bartering in the time of coronavirus: what neighbors are trading

On Easter, I dropped four cups of flour and a baggie of cash on my neighbor’s deck. It’s probably the strangest transaction I’ve ever made but about an hour later, there was a platter of pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausages, and turkey bacon by my back door.

As my mother said when I told her: “The flour’s probably more valuable than the cash right now.”

Since Ohio has been under a stay-at-home order that started March 23, I’ve seen the beauty in my community, and I’m not just talking about watching spring emerge on quiet daily walks, the holiday lights that someone rehung down our block, or the increase in artwork along the streets. I’m talking about the ways we’ve shown up for each other.

We’ve always been a friendly neighborhood, but, in many ways, social distancing has made us closer.

The first round of texts came in on March 25, more than two weeks into the school closure. (Which, as of yesterday, has been extended by Governor Mike DeWine through the end of the 2019–2020 school year.) One neighbor needed three AA batteries. Two people responded immediately. Next came someone I’ve seen but never met until recently, when she offered us a bag of sanitized bouncy balls and two Razor scooters. That inspired my kids to pass off their old scooter and some outgrown costumes to the youngest residents on our street.

And, on April 8, when more than a dozen tornados touched down in the surrounding area causing widespread damage, our neighbors waived away the companies charging a small fortune, got out their chainsaws, and got to work. In turn, they went home with firewood and beer.

My favorite moment, though, came that night when I texted my daughter’s teacher to ask if she would FaceTime us. After being in the basement until midnight the night before, we were exhausted and having a hard time. She called instantly and then contacted her assistant teacher — who used to live across the street from us — to set up a time to talk as well. That teacher decided to drive by two days later for a long (and distanced) talk. I plan to start regularly taking pictures of her favorite tree in her old yard.

“Bartering” comes in the form of free entertainment as well, some things done by the babysitters on our block who are out of work at the moment. The families who have more “independent” dependents at home are organizing distanced scavenger hunts (rainbows, bears, eggs, and dinosaurs so far), offering the frazzled parents of younger kids some much-needed distractions.

No doubt, these are strange times.

Easter was different from how we normally celebrate — very different — but, as my kids declared, possibly “the most memorable.” And for those of you wondering why I gave my neighbor both flour and cash, it wasn’t just for breakfast: Our resident Easter Bunny (me) dropped the ball and was planning to say that the bunny was socially isolating this year. But then my neighbor dropped off sanitized gifts and eggs.

Normally, we do this together: hiding eggs in both yards, the children running in and out of our houses to show off new things, and all of us getting together for a meal. This year, the kids were amazed that the Easter Bunny found enough sets of laser tag to engage in a socially distanced game. It’s not the same, but we’ll take it.

How is your community responding to Ohio’s stay-at-home order? Email us and you might just be featured in a future issue of Soapbox.

Continued COVID-19 coverage has been supported by a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project, a program run in partnership with the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and Local Media Association.

Read more articles by Jessica Esemplare.

Jessica Esemplare is the managing editor of Soapbox Cincinnati and a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Shortly after completing her degree in magazine journalism, she began covering local and regional topics at The Cincinnati Herald and, later, as an editor at Ohio Magazine. Her writing has also been featured in U.S. News and World Report.