BY BENJAMIN TREVIÑO

Social distancing and community outreach might seem counterintuitive, but for one McAllen couple, the former has given rise to the latter. Christa and Richard Roberts live in the 400 block of La Vista in central McAllen, and like most everyone else, they have been following official directives aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19. That includes staying home as much as possible. But before the county issued its shelter-at-home order, Christa felt that their down time could be put to better use.

“I was listening to my church online, and I just felt like there was something that I wanted to do,” Christa said. “I felt helpless, so I asked myself, ‘How can we all communicate, but also stay safe?’”

“We’re new to the neighborhood,” Richard added. “This is our second year of living where we live now. So we don’t know our neighbors really well, but we did want to contact them, make sure they’re OK, and find out if there’s any way we can help out if we can.”

With that goal in mind, Christa printed dozens of flyers which begin with a simple message: “Love thy neighbor as yourself. Let’s use these chaotic times to connect and come together as neighbors.”

The Roberts have routinely taken walks around the neighborhood with their toddler sons, Mack and Judah, but over the course of just a few days, Christa and Richard used their down time to leave flyers at every front door they passed. They wore gloves and kept a safe distance from anyone they met on the street so as not to break health protocols.

Their neighborhood is bound by Highland Avenue on the north, Upas to the south, and Second and Fourth streets to the east and west. They estimate they’ve left about 50 flyers as part of their project, which began March 22. The flyers urge people to join their Facebook group so everyone can stay in touch, give advice, encourage one another, and help each other when needed.

“Let’s say you need eggs,” Christa said. “You go to the store, but there’s no eggs. Then you’re left with this dilemma, ‘Do I continue to go to different stores and expose myself and my family just to find some eggs?’ So I thought if I could create an online group where people could say, ‘Hey, they have eggs,’ and people would only have to go to that one store.”

The flyers were also meant to counter some of the public rancor with a message of hope.

“It’s easy right now to get caught up in a little bit of fear and you start to kind of shut out the world,” Richard said. “You’re so worried about your own little circle, your own family, that it’s easy to forget that we should also be worried about the people next to you, and the people down the street, and the people one block over. We’ve been blessed to be healthy and able to help. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Christa Roberts leaves a flyer in a mailbox as part of her COVID-19 community outreach project. (Monitor Photo)

Christa and Richard’s Facebook group has 15 members and has already helped some of their neighbors find scarce food staples. Another group member also posted information about a local supermarket that had implemented special shopping hours for seniors.

During their block walk Wednesday morning, March 25, the Roberts encountered two of their neighbors who were also out for a walk and who were excited about the idea.

“I basically know all the neighbors,” said Ricky Hammond, who also happens to be a neighborhood watch captain. “Some of them I don’t know their names, but I know them by sight. The gentleman in that house there is 89. Next door, Omar, is also 89. So, this is great. Anything to help.”

“I like the idea,” said Nashla Showery, a retired teacher. “There’s a saying in Spanish, ‘No hay mal que por bien no venga.’ (Every cloud has a silver lining.) It’s scary, but we need to be grateful, pray and learn the value of prayer, because our whole country needs it.”

The Roberts, meantime, say they didn’t set out to change the entire world. Instead, they just wanted to leave a gentle reminder that we’re all in this together. Coincidentally, Wednesday was Christa’s 34th birthday, so the flyers became birthday presents of sorts for her neighbors.

“We gotta do what we can,” Christa said. “If we could all kind of do something for one another at this time, then maybe little pockets of that can change the world, as corny and cheesy as that may sound.”