Surviving and Thriving Together: How a ‘virtual neighborhood’ on Facebook is giving help– and hope– back to Hoosiers

In Your Neighborhood
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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Last month, a local dad and pastor named Joshua Barrett was scrolling through social media and what he saw was a tremendous amount of fear, negativity and confusion. 

Then, he saw a simple graphic with the words, “Go. Be. Love.”

That was his cue to take things into his own hands and create a positive space. He started a Facebook group called Surviving & Thriving Together: Indiana Neighbor Support.

It started small— with only a handful of members— which was fine with Barrett because he didn’t set out with any lofty goals for the group, other than bringing some positivity back to his friends and neighbors.

“I didn’t know anything would come of it or if anybody would even see it,” Barrett said. “I just wanted to post something inspirational and happy…Just trying to break up all the fear.”

But it didn’t take long for that handful of members to turn into a few dozen and beyond. Overnight, the group shot up to 1500 members, then 2500 within just a couple of days. Until it ultimately became what he now calls a “Virtual Neighborhood.”

The group’s premise is simple: If you need something—ask.  If you have something– offer it.

Photo Credit: Surviving & Thriving: Indiana Neighbor Support Facebook group

For many members, that means offering help to those in need, including the elderly, disabled, immunocompromised, financially strained, or simply down on their luck. 

And that help can be anything from purchasing and delivering groceries, running errands, picking up prescriptions or other necessities, helping guide others to necessary resources within their area, or any other needs that need to be met in order to make life a little easier for their fellow members.

Joshua Barrett, Founder of the Surviving & Thriving Together: Indiana Neighbor Support Facebook group, prepares to deliver groceries to a family in need

“It’s essentially [the same concept as] back growing up in Brown County and your neighbor needing a cup of sugar and you being more than willing to offer a cup of sugar,” he explained. “It really sprouted from that very basic concept into what it is now.”

The Surviving & Thriving Together: Indiana Neighbor Support Facebook group now has thousands of members and reaches all the way from Lafayette down to Evansville and still growing by the day. 

The burgeoning growth of the group today is a far cry from just a couple weeks ago when Barrett’s former Brown County High School schoolmate, Ryan Harrison, was the first to join.

Like many others, he was just looking for a little positivity.

“I was pretty discouraged actually when I was looking through everything that was said [on social media] and I was attributing it to malice or anger or really…the more I look at it, people were just really scared,” said Harrison. “But there was something about when I saw the group pop up… it was something positive and you could actually get out and do something positive.”

For Harrison, being able to help his new virtual neighbors was a way to make a difference in a world that now feels quite overwhelming.

“You look at the situation and it’s bigger than you can imagine and there’s no control that you can necessarily have over it, “ he explained. “With this group, I’ve kind of been able to kind of close my bubble and say, ‘Okay, what can I control?  I know this family needs food. I can control that and help with that.”  

Ryan Harrison on one of many trips to gather necessary items for Hoosiers in need

In the first days since the group’s creation, it wasn’t a rare occurrence for Barrett and Harrison to pass one another on the road while driving all over central Indiana to deliver groceries and other necessities. But now that the group has grown, a number of moderators manage their specific areas, coordinating with members to help answer the call for countless Hoosiers in need.

“It’s not just two bearded brothers running around doing everything,” laughed Harrison. “There’s a group of people that are all teaming up… friends helping neighbors and people we don’t even know solving problems for others… They just needed a place to connect with each other.”  

As a group, they’ve streamlined the system of how to get —or give— help.

At the top of the page, you’ll find various cities and areas tagged in the “Popular Topics” section. Click the one nearest you to see posts from those in need in your area. Or use the location tag in a post, saying where you’re located and what you need help with. 

Then, your virtual neighbors will answer. Over and over again.

By scrolling through the group’s wall, there seems to be just as many posts— if not more— by members offering help as there are those requesting assistance. It’s an encouraging sight, especially on a social platform where individuals tend to share only their best moments.

“The courage it shows to go on social media, where most people are trying to present themselves as completely together, [with] the perfect life… to go in there and say, ‘I need help’ is probably the bravest thing I’ve seen… the most real thing I’ve seen,” said Harrison.

But one of the beautiful things about this group is that once a person or family’s needs are met, they don’t just walk away from the group.

“Most of the active members in the group that you see,” said Barrett. “A lot of them are people who were helped the first day and took an active role in helping other people.”

“The very first delivery I made [was to] a single mom that had a newborn baby with an autoimmune disease and couldn’t leave the house…. when we got there, she had a box of baby wipes and said, ‘I have way more baby wipes than I need, so please give this to another family,” he recalled. 

Joshua Barrett delivering groceries to an elderly Hoosier who reached out to the Surviving and Thriving group for assistance

He also shared the story of a grandmother with 13 people living under her roof. She needed a bag of potatoes, but simply couldn’t find any after the mad rush of panic shoppers had cleared she shelves at her local grocery. So, Barrett answered her request and brought her a bag of potatoes. 

“She essentially paid for it… but gave money to the group for me to continue and give that to somebody else,” he said. 

Another example of that reciprocal giving spirit are Shanda and Gerald Reeves, who went to the group in their own time of need and ended up paying it forward.

Shanda and Gerald Reeves say their involvement in the group has “restored their faith in humanity.”

“We received help with food ourselves actually, because we wouldn’t find some of the stuff we needed, we were in a hard spot…It’s restored my faith in humanity and I’m pretty sure it’s restored his faith in humanity,” said Shanda. “It should be like this every single day… rather than just in a pandemic.”

The Reeves aren’t the only ones feeling this way. Other members will post to simply thank the group and its members for restoring their faith or even– as one member wrote– making them feel “whole” again.

It’s the kind of community where— although it lives entirely online— a visit just feels good for the soul.

“It’s kind of the world I wanted to live in…so to see it is a really beautiful thing,” Harrison noted.

It’s not always about being able to provide financially or through physical goods. Obviously, those are vital necessities for many— which is why they joined the group in the first place. But the real gift is less tangible. 

Photo Credit: Surviving & Thriving: Indiana Neighbor Support Facebook group

“How long is a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread going to last someone, you know? But the fact that someone cares…That lasts way longer than that actual physical stuff that we’re giving them,” said Harrison.

In this group, everyone brings something to the table. It can be the ability to help financially or through physical gestures of assistance. But Harrison and Barrett both make it a point to note that bringing your talents, passions, or even just words of encouragement is what makes this community so unique.

A group member live-streams reading a nap time story for children

You’ll see members sharing videos of themselves reading bedtime stories, teaching do-it-yourself lessons and even performing live-streamed music. When it comes to the members of Surviving & Thriving Together: Indiana Neighbor Support, it’s about doing what they can, when they can, with what they have…for their neighbors. 

When Harrison isn’t driving all over central Indiana, helping Hoosiers in need, he’s sharing his musical talents with group members to bring some positivity to his “virtual neighbors”.

And they don’t want this newfound feeling of community to go away once life returns to “normal.”

“This doesn’t end when people go back to work…This doesn’t end when people can get out of their houses or have the stimulus check or whatever comes down the road,” Harrison assured. “This is something that we needed and we’re going to want to continue.”

And, together, that is their plan.

Barrett and Harrison are already working on making their mission even bigger and reaching even more people. They’ve officially become a non-profit (called Go Be Love Inc.) and are in the process of raising the remaining funds to apply for 501(c)(3) status. Meanwhile, these “bearded bros” have already purchased a bus that will soon be converted into a mobile food pantry and farmers market, allowing them to literally take their mission on the road and serve even more Hoosiers in need.

Josh Barrett answered calls for assistance from some of our CBS4 viewers

“I’m a product of my community and I feel like this group can really take that message and run with it… the concept of giving and receiving and continuing to give and the ripple effect that it has in our state and in our world,” Barrett said. “But it all starts at home and it starts in your neighborhood.”

Four Things You Need to Know About the Surviving & Thriving: Indiana Neighbor Support group:

  • Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the negativity on social media directly after Governor Holcomb announced Indiana’s first COVID19 death (as well as the subsequent shutdowns at various restaurants and establishments around the state), Joshua Barrett felt the need to “break up the fear” and create a positive space on social media. So, on March 16th, 2019, he officially started the Facebook group Surviving & Thriving Together: Indiana Neighbor Support. The premise is simple: If you need something, ask. And if you have something, offer it.
  • The group’s membership swelled into the thousands in just the first few days, spanning all the way from Lafayette all the way down to Evansville and growing each day. On the group’s page, you’ll be able to easily navigate to the area nearest you, to either ask for what you need or to offer help. That help can be anything from purchasing and delivering groceries for those who are unable to get them for themselves, to sharing resources, providing encouragement and a sense of community. 
  • There is one main message Barrett’s friend and co-group leader, Ryan Harrison wanted to share with anyone contemplating joining the group: “We may not be able to get everybody everything they want, but I promise you we’re going to give everything we can to try and get everything you need,” he said. “And you will be loved in this group… and you won’t be alone.”
  • Both Barrett and Harrison are determined to not let this feeling of community go away when life goes back to “normal.” In fact, they’ve already taken things to the next level by officially becoming a non-profit called Go Be Love Inc. and are in the process of raising the necessary funds to apply for 501(c)(3) status. Their goal is to take this mission on the road, by converting an old school or church bus into a mobile food pantry or farmers market, so they can go directly into communities in need and continue to serve all their Hoosier neighbors.

To connect with the group and find out how you can get— or give— help in your area, check out the official Surviving & Thriving: Indiana Neighbor Support Facebook group by clicking here.

To learn more about Barrett’s non-profit, Go Be Love Inc., and to follow the creation and implementation of their mobile community food pantry, click here

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