Connecticut restaurants closed in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving the Courant to rethink its dining coverage for the foreseeable future. As we saw our personal social media feeds fill up with bread recipes and pictures of homemade pizza, we also saw an opportunity to engage our readers around the thing that connects us all: food. That's when we started the private "Courant Cooking Club" Facebook group.

We grew organically by 500 members in one week by promoting a live recipe demonstration with local chef and "Chopped" winner Xavier Santiago.

You can join the Courant Cooking Club here. There are a lot, a lot of reader recipes to check out.

When the pandemic started, the Courant began getting a flood of messages to our social accounts from followers asking how they could best protect themselves from COVID-19, how to file for unemployment and even the best way to wash their vegetables. So, we launched a weekly Q&A series on IGTV where our newsroom experts answered the questions followers were submitting.

You can check out more from the series here.

In the engagement space, we are constantly preaching about meeting our readers where they are. The adage is often associated with digital distribution, but we took a more literal approach with our story suggestion boxes. And where are our readers? Drinking coffee.

The idea was to create a direct line to the Courant through these small metal boxes, notecards and pencils.

So, we ordered a few boxes from Amazon (naturally), and placed a few of them at popular gathering places throughout the Hartford community. One of those places being the popular coffee shop Story and Soil.

We've gotten a number of great story suggestions so far, ranging from where to see underground rock shows in the area to where Connecticut's politicians stand on President Trump. Every now and then, we even get a few poems.

We've recently transitioned the boxes to include the prompt: "Which issues do you care most about in the upcoming presidential election?" to help guide our newsroom's election coverage.