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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Bo Newberry holds examples of household items that can be used as flags during a press conference announcing the launch of Lookout For America on March 17.

While the nature of a pandemic tends to separate people rather than bring them together, some Chattanooga area residents are using the coronavirus outbreak as an opportunity to reach out to their more vulnerable neighbors and close the gap that widens between people in times of insecurity.

Residents of the St. Elmo community are known for their willingness to step up and help one another when necessary, such as when neighbors helped two elderly sisters with repairs to their home when it was struck by lightning last year.

As the pandemic first began to affect the daily lives of Americans late last month, Rebecca Westbrook's thoughts turned to the needs of the homeless population camping in St. Elmo and the Southside. She stopped by the camp at the corner of Cummings Highway and South Broad Street, and after getting an assessment of needs there, she returned with necessities including sanitizing wipes, oranges and gallons of water. Westbrook also stopped by the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, which was too overwhelmed to return calls, she said.

Through her neighborhood's email list, Westbrook and other St. Elmo residents offered to pick up supplies for neighbors who are more at risk or unable to get out themselves.

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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Brother and sister Bo, left, and Hope Newberry speak during a press conference announcing the launch of Lookout For America March 17.

Among those who volunteered their services was Becky Sparks, a St. Elmo resident for the past 24 years.

"I teared up at how many people said, 'I'm at the ready,'" Sparks said. "I do think St. Elmo is unique in that way."

Sparks said the email list, organized and overseen by residents Jeff and Heather Cross, offers a convenient way to communicate with a large portion of the community, allowing members to quickly mobilize to fill needs in times of emergency.

People also use the list to share resources. For example, Heather Cross recently informed neighbors that she sanitized a bunch of her family's board games and left them on her porch for stir-crazy neighbors to borrow to help keep their kids occupied while out of school.

"The only way we're going to get through [the coronavirus outbreak], aside from following the recommendations of the CDC, is supporting each other and pooling our resources," said Westbrook.

More online

To read about the city of Chattanooga's efforts to prepare for an outbreak of coronavirus among one of the city's most vulnerable populations, visit tinyurl.com/CHAHomelessCOVID. As a public service, the Times Free Press is offering all of its coronavirus-related content available online for free.

A sister and brother from Lookout Mountain recently came up with another way to help neighbors in need during the COVID-19 outbreak.

In late March, Hope and Bo Newberry launched "Lookout for America," a three-color flag system people can use to let their neighbors know what they need. Elderly or at-risk people can place a yellow flag on a prominent place outside their homes with a list of what is needed.

The system of helping neighbors is a way for young people who are now living at home due to the outbreak to help others, Hope Newberry said.

The group has several homes participating on Lookout Mountain, but hopes more neighborhoods will adopt the flag system, she said. For now, they are asking participants to hang their flags between noon and 2 p.m. each day.

Staff writer Wyatt Massey contributed to this story.

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508.

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