Wyomingites Banding Together to Lend a Helping Hand Virtually, or Social-Distance Style

Connecting #WyomingNeighbors

The posts are written from people all over the Cowboy State.

A group of women in the Pine Bluffs area has posted photos of the hand-sewn masks they have made to fill a much-needed shortage for those medical professionals and other first responders on the front lines of the pandemic. “These are cloth masks that would be used over N95 masks in order to allow the N95 to be used longer safely,” one woman wrote. “Just feels good to help in any way we can.”

Cloth face masks
Pine Bluffs women come together to make cloth masks in response to COVID-19 outbreak.

Another person issued a thank you to the Lander Food Bank, who have been working overtime to get supplies to isolated county residents that have been hard hit by the virus with more than 14 cases to date.

In Sweetwater County, a paraprofessional at the junior high wrote that she is still being paid through the extended spring break shut down and is volunteering her time to tutor any students in need via Zoom or over the phone.

There are 25 comments under a single Facebook post that asked people to share some of the things they are grateful for with answers ranging from faith, family, friends and neighbors to being grateful for their good health.

This type of state-wide interaction is exactly what Gillette resident Josh Dillinger was hoping to see when he recently launched his wyomingneighbors.org website and Facebook page in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic as many people lost jobs, fell ill or withdrew into isolation. Lives across the state were suddenly upended under a hazy shroud of unknowns.

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Gillette resident Josh Dilinger started a website to help Wyoming neighbors connect with one another in face of coronavirus spread.
Gillette resident Josh Dilinger started a website to help Wyoming neighbors connect with one another in face of coronavirus pandemic.

Dillinger knows what this feels like as his own life is currently on hold as the Campbell County School District elementary school art teacher waits to hear whether he’ll be returning to the classroom or reconfiguring his curriculum to teach online. In the interim, his planned one-week spring break has since extended into three during which time he’s gotten pretty bored and started looking for other things to do that might actually be more helpful to the community than his planned kitchen redesign.

A conversation with his older sister, Rebecca Fitzgerald, communication director for Wyoming Game and Fish Department in Cheyenne, took a turn to the philosophical as they discussed a video released by the University of Wyoming about the Wyoming state of mind. In the wake of the pandemic that cancelled on-campus classes for the rest of the year, the two talked about the poem, “Wyoming State of Mind,” which resonated with the pair with deep roots and ties to Wyoming.

Channeling the community spirit of Wyoming as neighbors who help each other out, the two decided to try to bridge the vast distances between the state’s far-away counties during the pandemic. The result, a website that serves as a virtual platform where all Wyomingites could share information and resources.

He doesn’t see the outbreak ending any time soon, Dillinger said, and thinks we are smart to prepare for a new normal as COVID-19 continues to change the patterns of life.

“What comes next?” he asked. “Until a vaccine comes out, we’re going to have to self-isolate and how do we interact until we have developed herd immunity? There’s going to be less face-to-face interaction.”

Along with the Facebook page to serve as a source to connect and share information, he’d also like the website to serve as a single portal for statewide resources and has included a mechanism in the site’s construct whereby people can submit. Right now, he’s included a link to First Lady Jenny Gordon’s Wyoming Hunger Initiative and hopes to grow from there.

In the first week since launching the site, he already has more than 1100 members in the #WyomingNeighborFacebook public group and hopes to see the page evolve as a means of sharing resources, such as non-essential workers who are currently at home volunteering to provide free daycare to essential workers on the frontline.

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“People are going to need childcare and those kinds of things,” he said, “and the idea is to offer to help others wherever people need it the most.”

There will be no money exchanged or anyone making a profit, he said.

“This isn’t a place to make money or peddle contraband toilet paper,” he said with a laugh. “The idea is to help your neighbor, whether that person be next door or across the state.”

Just as he’s done, he’s hoping others see the temporary challenge as an opportunity to not just step up for others and come together, but also as a time to innovate and find new solutions for a new generation of problems.

“Until people stop seeing this as a temporary thing,” he said, “it’s likely nobody (will) take the time to innovate. I think we can and should rise to the occasion and continue to do what Wyomingites have always done—making the best of circumstances and helping one another to prosper and thrive.”

Connect with your neighbors at #WyomingNeighbors.com.