Teaching Community in Pandemic Times

Kellen Gilbert
Southeastern Louisiana University


The news is full of accounts of community responses to the pandemic.  I have been following the story of a northern New Mexico neighborhood’s support of the Navajo Nation.  (The neighborhood community is about 250 miles from the Navajo reservation).  The neighborhood hardware store owner was contacted by a health care provider trying to find gloves to purchase and have shipped to her reservation.  At that point in the early spring, the nearly 5,000 residents had no PPE, no hand sanitizer, and many did not have running water.  The store owner responded by donating and shipping gloves and asking (via social media and in-store signage) if customers and other community members would add to his donation, or as he put it: “partnering with the Nation to get through this.”  

The word got out, and in two months people donated more than $20,000.  The store asked what the Navajo community needed, and to date volunteers have made six trips to deliver masks, gloves, bottled water, hand sanitizer, disinfectant, Gatorade, food and dog food. 

Comments by donors such as this “grassroots effort is the most and invigorating” to “our community coming forward to stand by these folks means much more than we could know on so many levels” have piqued my interest.   What does it mean to those who contributed?  Are other kinds of connections, beyond a monetary contribution, being made?   I’m now working on ways to incorporate these kinds of pandemic and community engagement accounts and stories into my introductory level anthropology class.  My students, the majority of whom are from south Louisiana parishes, have experienced two hurricanes on top of the coronavirus pandemic.  I am interested in exploring with the student’s ideas about community, making connections with others, and the collective well-being.    

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