- File: Molly Walsh
- Michael Wood-Lewis
This space is normally devoted to what's weird in Vermont. But right now, well, what isn't weird in Vermont?
With daily routines turned upside down, Vermonters are looking for ways to help their neighbors. Over at Front Porch Forum, the Burlington-born company that facilitates hyper-local discussions in an email newsletter, new membership numbers have doubled or tripled in recent weeks while posting rates are 50 percent higher than normal, cofounder Michael Wood-Lewis told Seven Days on Tuesday.
"The majority of postings now are related to the coronavirus crisis," Wood-Lewis said. "They've been following the arc of warnings, to now more offers of help and official statements from the government sector at the state and local level."
Indeed, recent messages on the Hinesburg edition included people willing to help in any way, messages of thanks to school custodial staff and to Lantman's Market, the local grocery store, for staying open and stocked as people poured in for supplies.
The influx means a lot more work for Wood-Lewis' staff, which is also contending with a surge of postings that contain disinformation, he said. Monitors are sure to intercept those messages before they go out, he added.
"It's well-intended Vermonters passing along something they saw on Facebook, which is false," Wood-Lewis said. "So we stop that from circulating."
The company's business model, much like many news outlets', depends on advertising from small businesses and donations. Wood-Lewis said the coronavirus crunch is hurting them in that department, though he's working to keep staffing levels intact. The small biz knows it has an important role to play during these tough times and that neighbors are depending on it — and each other — more than ever.
"It's inspiring to see how Vermonters respond to a crisis," Wood-Lewis said. "For so many people, their first instinct is to step up and ask, 'How can I help?' For Front Porch Forum to be able to facilitate a little bit of that — it's certainly gratifying. And it makes us committed to keep working, even through hard times."