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Gary Nelson and Dolores Smart postponed their big wedding due to the coronavirus, but wanted to be married right away. Their neighbors saved the day.

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Can’t find toilet paper? Need eggs but trying to limit shopping trips during the coronavirus pandemic?

Perhaps a neighbor can help.

Retail giant Walmart and neighborhood-based social network Nextdoor announced a new program Thursday – dubbed “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” – that aims to make it easier for community members to help each other amid COVID-19.

With the program available in cities nationwide, Nextdoor members can request assistance or offer to help someone locally picking up groceries, medications and other essentials and then delivering them without contact.

In an exclusive interview with USA TODAY, Walmart Chief Customer Officer Janey Whiteside called the program “a hyperlocal way to pay it forward.” It also helps Walmart limit the number of shoppers in the company’s 5,000-plus U.S. stores, a measure rolled out April 4.

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“The less people we can have in the store, the quicker we can get people in and out and the easier it is to adhere to social distancing guidelines,” Whiteside said. “We want everybody to get everything they want from Walmart but the less people we can have getting it for them, the better it is.”

Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar said in recent weeks the San Francisco-based company has seen a 260% increase in members offering to help their neighbors. The “neighborly touch” can make all the difference to vulnerable people like seniors and those most susceptible to COVID-19, Friar said.

“There’s something really important about the strength of proximity,” Friar told USA TODAY. “It’s easy to do the service component, when it’s someone who lives just down the street or maybe in the apartment building.”

Neighbors Helping Neighbors purchases are between Nextdoor members and different from Walmart’s delivery and pickup services, including curbside. The retailer started reserving an hour every morning for pickup orders for first responders and shoppers most at risk for the coronavirus April 14.

Whiteside said Nextdoor was Walmart’s “partner of choice” because members are verified using their addresses and mobile numbers. “You know they’re legit,” she said. “It’s not somebody masquerading as wanting to help and trying to defraud you.”

Walmart and Nextdoor recommend using contact-free payment services like Venmo and Paypal instead of cash.

Friar said while the program is starting with Walmart it may be expanded to include other retailers.

“I think we’re going to come out of this whole pandemic with a whole new appreciation for our neighborhood,” Friar said.

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Panic shopping from coronavirus has recently left store shelves empty, so some stores are setting aside time for their elderly and at-risk shoppers.

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How it works

If a Nextdoor member wants help shopping for needed items or wants to offer their help, they log on to Nextdoor.com or the Nextdoor app, available on both iOS and Android phones. Accounts need to be verified.

Members click on the recently launched “Groups” tab and will see Walmart stores in their area pinned to the top of the page. Walmart locations and hours where “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” is available can also be found on Nextdoor’s “Help Map.”

Members will then be prompted to share a message in the group feed to indicate if they need help or want to offer help.

Once members connect in the feed they can work out details of the shopping trip on the message board or direct message each other to work on the specifics.

Neighbors are encouraged to utilize contact-free payment options like Venmo or Paypal instead of cash and leave packages in front of the door.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @KellyTyko

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