Pandemic prescription: Laughing through

Beth KinnaneGet Up & Go, Inside 640

In a blink, September has arrived, and the end of a challenging 2020 looms ahead. It also means Halloween is just around the corner, which weighs heavily on Jeff Johnson, the co-chair of the social committee for the Historic 4th and Gill Neighborhood Association. In a year full of cancelled events, he’s now pondering how to safely manage the neighborhood’s renowned and well-attended Halloween rituals without a hitch.


“We’ll be putting our heads together soon to figure out our options.” Johnson said. “We normally have 300 to 400 trick-or-treaters. We normally have a chili cook-off and costume contests. Plus, Halloween is on a Saturday this year, so normally you’d expect it to go from noon till dark.”

Jeff Johnson

Johnson is, of course, referring to adjusting plans with the Covid pandemic casting shadows over everybody’s calendar, so nothing is normal. “It’s hard to be social when social is illegal,” he said with a wry laugh.

The 53-year old Lenoir City native has lived in 4th and Gill for a decade and was a nominee for the city’s Diana Conn Good Neighbor of the Year Award. He also co-chairs the association’s Tour of Homes committee, and in his work-life is a medical lab courier for Quest Diagnostics.

The 4th and Gill Tour of Homes, scheduled for April, had to be cancelled, which was particularly disappointing, Johnson said, as this year is the 30th anniversary of the tour.

The August 23 Personal Picnic and Photo Exhibition in the Historic 4th and Gill Neighborhood

“That is our primary neighborhood fund-raiser every year,” he said, noting that the monies raised are used to maintain the association’s building on 4th Avenue (also home of The Birdhouse) as well as fund various community charity projects, particularly Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Knoxville. “We were really jazzing it up for the anniversary, too.”

Despite cancellations and set-backs due to Covid, Johnson said they have had a pretty good year. “We just found ways to keep doing things in a socially distant way,” he said, for example, using Facebook Live to go virtual with their neighborhood porch hops. Normally, four or five neighbors have snacks, drinks and often music on their porches as neighbors “hop” to each location. This year, one person hopped and filmed for everyone else.

A recent success was their second annual Personal Picnic, hosted in a neighborhood vacant lot. Attendance had to be restricted, and, instead of a potluck, attendees brought their own food or had it delivered. The event is for collecting school supplies for Beaumont Academy and a photo exhibition. The exhibition features wildlife and garden photography from neighborhood yards.

“We have a neighborhood wildlife enrichment group called the Wooly Bears. They started with encouraging people to use more native plants and get their lawns certified as wildlife habitat,” Johnson said. “Now the whole neighborhood is certified. It’s great.”

Johnson is keeping his sense of humor intact. When asked what other projects lie ahead, he chuckled, “you mean my next headache? Just kidding. But, honestly, getting this new 2020 neighborhood merchandise sold. My online store is a mess, but I got it up.”

And Halloween. Don’t forget Halloween.

Beth Kinnane is a freelance writer and thoroughbred bloodstock agent.

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