Here’s hoping it’s the new normal

Kindness, decency, connection to our neighbors …

Kristine Leander - silver lining

Photo: Lori Ann Reinhall
Kristine Leander, a strong supporter of The Norwegian American, is the executive director of the Swedish Club, a popular gathering place for the entire Seattle Nordic community—and famous for its Sunday pancake breakfasts. Kristine is the granddaughter of Swedish immigrant pioneers to Skagit Valley in western Washington. She lived in Trondheim, Norway, for two years, which formed the basis for her doctoral studies at the University of Washington. She headed the group that has given statues of Leif Erikson to Trondheim, Greenland, and Newfoundland in Canada.

Executive Director
Swedish Club, Seattle

We first heard about COVID-19 a year ago, toward the end of February. Our annual antiques and rummage sale was poorly attended, and we chalked it up to the “novel coronavirus” that was just starting to spread in Seattle and surrounding King County. Only a few cases had been reported, but everyone was a bit on edge.

And then, suddenly, by the middle of March, everything was shut down. It’s been a tough year since then, as we experimented with programs, meals, and entertainment within the restrictions imposed by the state. Nearly every couple of months has meant pivoting to a new routine for us: no dining indoors at all, then dining at 25% capacity, then takeout only. We Zoomed in-house entertainment from one floor to another, and that transitioned to entertainment only outdoors with masks or behind a screen. We even had lutefisk in a tent, but then the rules changed again, and we could offer only takeout. (As of Feb. 1 this year, we went back to 25% capacity, but plans are evolving …)

Our members were the bright spot in this experience, as they supported us with their donations and dinner pickups, their compliments and kudos. Even though member households have decreased by around 20%, fundraising has gone up—and not just by a little bit. Substantially. The number of donors has doubled over previous years, and so has the total of their gifts.

Another bright spot is that between having no events and no in-person visitors and receiving donations from the Swedish Club Foundation plus PPP funds to pay for staff hours, we have refreshed the club with new paint, new floors, and a total sprucing-up of the pancake kitchen. Pancake volunteers will love it, and members will notice the improvements when they are finally able to visit.

Here we are now a year later with a new national government, effective vaccines (although much of the distribution remains to be worked out) and approaching liftoff to a post-pandemic world. It feels like a reset. What does it mean for our members, our club, and the community? What have we learned and what will be our new normal?

I don’t know about you, but I believe we have learned the lesson of connection and kindness. Maybe one silver lining to the pandemic is that we are just a little more careful of our relationships. In a sense, we are all roommates to each other in the community, and decency has made a comeback. I hope that every member has done something specific to make life a little easier or better for a neighbor or stranger. Here are a few stories from our members:

• A couple of months ago we asked a team of our volunteers to call members confined to retirement homes. When one member heard about this—even though she wasn’t one of those volunteers—she decided to do us one better and take a day to actually visit club members in their retirement homes. Of course, it was mostly waving through windows, but it was a cheery reminder that someone cared. 

• A quarantined couple began making meals one evening a week for residents of Compass Housing who were cut off from previous free lunch meals. 

• Another member has organized weekly urban hikes—rain or shine— for masked-up friends eager to get together but wanting to do it safely. 

• One member has a 97-year-old neighbor with bad eyesight. Due to the quarantine, the neighbor can’t get out, so the club member bought her a CD player and an audiobook she was interested in. 

• One retired couple with health-care backgrounds are helping neighbors get vaccination appointments and then driving those who need a ride. 

• Another member reported she has doubled her usual donation to the food bank in her neighborhood. 

• Of all the stories I’ve heard, perhaps this is the most impactful. A club member who lives in Skagit Valley knew she didn’t need her stimulus check, so when the first one came, she donated it to her favorite charities. When the second one came, she wanted to give it to a person instead of an organization. She remembered that her extended family occasionally employs undocumented workers for farm work. She and her cousin drove to the home of one of those workers, and she presented him with the check. After he understood what it was, he wept. Be open to old ideas. 

Kindness, decency, connection to our neighbors, whoever they are. Here’s hoping it’s the new normal.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 12, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

Norwegian American Logo

The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.