PIONEER PERSPECTIVES: Now's the time to befriend your neighbor

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Hannah Olson is a multimedia reporter for the Pioneer.

My fascination toward being a good neighbor began with construction paper May Day baskets.

As a child, I envied kids who lived in idyllic neighborhoods full of other children, running around from backyard to backyard in a wild chaotic hoard.

My neighborhood was quiet and populated almost exclusively with retirees. So, I found other ways to amuse myself. Books mostly.

One book in particular introduced me to the oft-forgotten tradition of May Day baskets -- on May 1, people gather flowers, candy and other goodies in baskets to hang on the doors of friends, neighbors and loved ones -- and I ran with it.

May 1 came around, and I ding-dong-ditched my middle-aged neighbor, Gail, with a colorful cone-shaped May Day basket. She returned the favor, and in the aftermath we formed an unlikely friendship. The tradition has continued for 16 years.


This year -- one of my first without access to Gail -- deep into the throes of coronavirus lockdown, I tried again.

It was a cry for help.

At the time, I had been living in Bemidji since the end of February, and didn’t know anyone aside from my coworkers -- who I stopped seeing regularly after we began working from home -- and my sister, who in her own life-crisis uprooted everything and moved to Bemidji, too.

I had no strategy to find new friends, especially mid-pandemic. I was fresh from my first job out of college at the newspaper in International Falls, where I was also rather friendless. So, I returned to a tried and true method.

My sister was hesitant to embrace the idea, but begrudgingly joined in as we sat on the floor of my living room, crafting small cones out of floral paper and filling them with candy. We then sneaked around my apartment complex leaving May Day cones at the doors of my building neighbors.

And… it worked. Without leaving a note, the men living in the apartment above ours figured out who had left the basket on their door handle and invited us up for a chat. We’ve since formed a friendship that has likely saved my sister and I from utter isolation-induced insanity (we never planned to live together again after leaving our parent’s house, and it’s been...interesting).

This brings me to my point -- sorry, I’m long-winded -- on behalf of other lonely people in Bemidji who may not have the public platform or construction paper that I did: check up on your neighbors.

While Minnesotans are generally adept at embracing the concept of being neighborly, a little reminder never hurt.


Back when we were all baking bread and living in a comfy delusion that the pandemic may only last a few weeks, many of us probably remembered to think of our neighbors. But what about in July, September or December? Lonely folks are only getting lonelier.

Here are some ways you can check up on the people next door:

  • Leave a note -- if they are someone you know well, check up on them, say hi! If it’s someone you don’t know as well, introduce yourself and give them your contact information.

  • Share baked goods, or invite your neighbors out for some socially distant coffee.

  • Wave hello -- even something this simple can help someone feel welcome.

  • Set up a Facebook group to keep in touch and share information pertinent to your neighborhood or apartment building.

  • Offer to complete tasks or pick up groceries for your neighbors who may be more vulnerable to COVID-19.

We could all use a little extra kindness right now -- and if anyone needs one, you’ve got a neighbor in me.
Hannah Olson is a multimedia reporter for the Pioneer. She can be reached at (507) 676-1101.

Hannah Olson is a multimedia reporter for the Pioneer covering education, Indigenous-centric stories and features.
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