Column: Knowing your neighbors provides many benefits

In a couple of weeks, people will be congregating throughout the nation to celebrate National Night Out.

For more than 30 years, people have used this opportunity to help fight crime and make neighborhoods safer. But I would like to suggest that another great benefit is actually getting to know your neighbors and welcoming new people to the community.

With our faces glued to cellphone screens and our lives increasingly lived digitally, it is easy to let years go by and barely know who lives right next door to you. Fortunately, I am blessed to have some very thoughtful neighbors who make a point of reaching out to help others.

In 2013, a major storm took down many of my tree limbs. Some fell into the street and became the city’s responsibility to clean up. But another tree lost one third of its top and fell across my front sidewalk. A kind neighbor across the street came over with his chain saw and cut the branches into manageable pieces.

The next year I had surgery. Shortly after I returned home, my doorbell rang. It was neighbors who live a couple blocks away, but whom I’ve come to know when they walk their dogs morning and night. They had a bag full of deli food from Cub so I wouldn’t have to cook. Their thoughtfulness really touched me.

Last year I had a new lawn mower delivered to my house but soon found myself struggling to put it together. The neighbor across the street ended up coming over to help me. I watched as he easily finished the project, put in the oil and gas and started it up. What a relief! And helping people is not a rare occurrence for this man. He has helped others with damaged trees from wind storms, and he and his wife regularly help an elderly neighbor take out her garage and other little tasks.

And then there’s the gal across the street, (and her sister who lives a couple blocks away,) who go through the neighborhood during the curbside pickup in the spring. They rescue discarded furniture on the curb and bring it home to refinish the pieces. I’ve heard of some people doing this and then selling the pieces on eBay. But those gals donate the refurbished pieces to Bridging. Absolutely amazing!

Then one night, a few months ago, there was a knock on the door after dark. I hesitantly opened to door to find her standing there with a plate full of cinnamon rolls. Sounds like Mayberry USA, doesn’t it?

In April I bought a new tree to replace the one I had to remove last summer. For weeks, I dreaded the task of planting it, as I feared I would encounter large roots where I wanted to dig the hole. Finally, on Memorial Day weekend, I took on the task.

While digging, I easily cut through smaller roots, but then halfway through the project, I ran into a rather daunting three-inch root. I stopped and stared at it, trying to figure out what to do next. Do I give up and call my lawn and landscape company, to plant it for me? Do I try to cut through it myself? Do I dig in another area?

Just then, a man appeared behind me and commented on the challenging task at hand. He introduced himself as the father of a neighbor catty-corner behind my house and the uncle of the neighbor across the street from me (yes, the one who helped me with my mower). After we chatted for a while, he suddenly offered to find a power saw at his son’s house so he could cut through the root.

True to his word, he returned a few minutes later with a reciprocating saw and sliced right through it. A perfect stranger, on vacation and walking between his nephew’s house and his son’s house, stops to help a damsel in distress. It helped restore my badly damaged faith in mankind.

It’s easy to think that neighborhoods aren’t what they used to be. That people no longer run next door to borrow a cup of sugar or take care of one’s plants while the other is on vacation. But maybe things haven’t changed that much after all. We just need to step away from our computer screen, stop texting and actually walk across the street to interact with our neighbors. There are some good people out there.

Aug. 1 will be a good time to start. But don’t let it stop there. Keep in touch throughout the year. You’ll be glad you did.


Pam Pommer, a graduate of Lincoln Senior High School, lives in Bloomington, where she enjoys gardening and spending time with her shelties.