Monday, May 4, 2015

Black Lives Matter:: Community Service in Baltimore 5/3/15 #baltimoreuprising

Hi Guys,

I am sure by now you all are aware of everything that is going on in Baltimore regarding Freddie Gray, particularly since the "riots" which occurred last Monday.

Following the Monday riots, the Baltimore City Mayor implemented a 10 pm curfew for certain areas (another conversation for another day) that went into place Tuesday, and cancelled school. The problem that cancelling school created was that approximately 85% of  Baltimore City Public School Students are on free or reduced lunch--meaning that they rely on school to eat. 

What really upset me about this was that nobody seemed to think about the kids who would likely be without food. Also several businesses in Baltimore provided free food--to police, military, first responders--ONLY. This really upset me.

Luckily churches and community groups organized very quickly not only to provide food, but somewhere for the kids to go that would be safe as well as an alternative to being in the streets.

Basically that is my back story on how I came up with the idea to do this service. I stumbled upon another young woman, Erica (who has an organization called #itdoesntendwithahastag), who had already started organizing a clean up for the weekend and wanted to collab with my food idea.

As we got into the planning, we realized by the time Sunday came around cleaning up may not still be needed. Another participant who had been on the ground had gotten word that the Senior Center which had burned down (by construction fire) was in desperate need of toiletry supplies. The CVS which burned down was also their main source of products so this was a big problem.

Once I shared this plan, the support and donations started rolling in. To the tune of ~$400...did I mention ALL of this took place over the span of THREE days?! Yeah.

Councilman Nick Mosby asked for donations to be broken down into individual packs so that each person could easily get some of everything--so we finished this right outside of the building. 
Volunteers putting together the baggies in an assembly line
How Did It Go? Feedback? Moving Forward?

The block were we set up on also had residential buildings on it and initially folks who were there were understandably skeptical about who we were and why we were there. There were a lot of us! As people (adults and kids) were walking by were we greeted them and began offering lunch, snacks, and some toiletries. Before you knew it, they had gone and told their friends and we had more people to serve. They were BEYOND grateful and appreciative of both the strong presence and the items they received. Drivers honked as they passed by and expressed their thanks.
We also received a huge donation from We Feed Baltimore of sandwiches/packed lunches and toiletries--Thanks to them for the support.
Assembling More Lunch Bags
We had so much food that we began to walk throughout the neighborhood to tell folks to come get some! Despite many being in their own circumstances of need, I had people giving ME money as a donation toward the seniors. WOW.
As we were giving out the last of what we had, we met a family who had just that morning received a bag full of groceries as an anonymous donation on her doorstep. She was so appreciative. We talked for quite a while and she told me about how she started not one but TWO girl scout troups who had been quite involved with the city's previous Mayor. She expressed disappointment in the (now) lack of opportunities the girls have to be exposed and involved. We talked about the impact losing the CVS had on that immediate area (which was about 2 blocks away) and the family was much more concerned with how those seniors were going to make it than their own personal hurdles. WOW.
As we walked, one of my sorority sisters also volunteering mentioned that she lived on a block we passed for a few years as a child, and how there used to be a grocery store on a section we passed. It is now an empty grassy space(not sure how long it has been gone). As she talked, it dawned on me that the ENTIRE time I had been in and around the neighborhood, I had not seen even ONE grocery store.
The mother from the family mentioned this in respect to the loss of the CVS--that WAS their grocery store. I am sure many of you could imagine my dismay, as stores such as CVS are typically more expensive than your avg grocery store. So basically, this area is a FOOD DESERT. Very troubling realization, and it really made it clear why (aside from general gratitude) the residents we came across were so incredibly thankful. Food --beyond what one could acquire at a convenience store-- is a NEED. Preferably a more sustainable option.
The young lady I partnered with has a part 2 planned for Saturday May 9th, where they will be collecting clothes--same time same place. I let the mother know we would be back next weekend and why. Her response? "Oh that is great and such a blessing, I have some clothes I would like to give." WOW. I am saying wow, not because I am surprised she (or anyone in that neighborhood would give), but because that was the first thing that came to her DESPITE her situation.
The spirit of these people, my people (and no im not from Baltimore), is amazing. Yes they need help. But they are more than willing to jump in and help themselves and each other.
She asked if we could connect via facebook, and I am hoping she didn't forget me lol, because I promised her that I would be back. I promised her that I would seek her guidance on what they need. I promised her that I would do what I can.
I would like to organize snacks and lunch again if possible, for this event this weekend. If you have ANY connections to products or food that could be donated PLEASE comment below. If interested in donating or assisting please let me know.
Have you been involved in any service activity in Baltimore? Are you seeking a way to help? Long term, we want to brainstorm more sustainable solutions to help these communities help themselves. Let's see what we can come up with.

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