Earlier this year, as quarantine fell upon Northwest Arkansas, Crystal Bridges and the Momentary wanted to determine how best to help the region’s vulnerable communities and bridge the inequity gap created by the effects of COVID-19.
After speaking with community partners and assessing our resources, we identified five key areas of support: food, internet, housing, artist relief, and a campaign for social connecting to foster connections with vulnerable, isolated groups. Mobilizing the staff, these efforts were carried out as part of the organization-wide Community Outreach Initiative.
In this blog, we’ll recap our Food Support efforts, partnering with community organizations and schools to deliver meals and art kits to thousands of community members around Northwest Arkansas.
On March 17, regular daily work came to a halt for the Crystal Bridges and Momentary teams. Assessing the immediate impact of COVID-19, the organization’s attention turned toward the community, and multiple task forces were formed across the institutions to meet this call. One was a task force to investigate whether or not we could help alleviate food insecurity.
We began our work by canvassing a number of agencies and school districts. We found two partners with whom we could work immediately―the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank and Monitor Elementary School (Springdale District), whose students had challenges of getting to food distribution centers.
Working on-site at Crystal Bridges with proper safety protocols in place, staff volunteered 1,678 hours to pack approximately 6,600 boxes of food for the Food Bank and over 25,000 meals for Monitor Elementary students. Creativity kits accompanied every box of food. Nearly 10,000 bags with art materials and activity prompts were assembled by the teams at Crystal Bridges, the Amazeum, Walton Arts Center, the Community Creative Center (Fayetteville), and Girls on the Run.
Overall, about 125,000 individuals were served. Sabrina Thiede, the Food Bank’s agency coordinator said of our partnership: “It has been a remarkable experience to work alongside the Crystal Bridges team. Their willingness to step up as our sole volunteer team during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowed us to continue our mission of serving the food insecure of Northwest Arkansas. I truly believe the best way to end hunger is by working together, and this was a giant step in that direction.”
The museum staff volunteers―professionally and personally―felt the impact of this work.
Joe LaCavera, director of culinary operations, shared, “The chance to impact the community during these troubled times has given me a new perspective going forward. The ability to engage with team members from all over the museum and develop new relationships will truly help the organization down the road.”
Sara Segerlin, senior manager of community engagement at Crystal Bridges, said: “Being part of the Food Task Force team to support the NWA Food Bank’s much-needed efforts with food insecurity in this region showed the vital importance of working together and challenging ourselves as museum professionals to get outside of our ‘art lane’ and better serve the needs of our community.”
Emilio Fabico, chief operating officer, summed up the experience: “The work we did was rewarding to our teams because it brought us together in support of the Crystal Bridges mission by serving our community.”
Even though Crystal Bridges and the Momentary are open to the public again, the museum continues to explore its community support efforts.