Last year, Crystal Bridges and Momentary staff joined forces in cross-departmental teams to design, assemble, and deliver 1,500 house cleaning and personal care kits to organizations serving people dealing with housing insecurity in Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale, Fayetteville, and Siloam Springs.
As we move forward into 2021, the pandemic is still with us. Effective vaccines are slowly becoming available, but it will be some time before we all have access to them. Members of communities of color, and people across our region living on low and reduced incomes, have been particularly hard hit by coronavirus.
Last spring, after speaking with community partners, our Community Programs team identified five key areas of support needed in our region during the pandemic and formed teams to address issues with food, internet, artist relief, social connection, and housing support. These efforts would be carried out as part of the organization-wide Community Outreach Initiative.
To understand how Crystal Bridges could assist people dealing with housing insecurity, Head of Community Programs Sara Segerlin began connecting with local agencies and non-profits to hear about the needs of their clients. The Northwest Arkansas Continuum of Care was an instrumental community partner, helping the museum understand the inner workings of homelessness and present-day disparities across Northwest Arkansas and establish new relationships with 10+ shelters across the region, such as 7hills Homeless Center, Fayetteville Housing Authority, and Salvation Army. Additionally, Hark NWA’s 211 Help Hotline program guided the museum in collecting needs from small or private organizations through an interregional council.
During the early months of the pandemic, items like hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies were hard to come by. The museum’s food boxes and art kits were being well received, so the Housing team decided to build on that success. Staff pulled together tote bags containing personal care items for individuals lacking stable housing and house cleaning kits for people on limited incomes or escaping domestic violence and moving into new housing situations. Art kits and information about internet access were also included.
After researching what supplies might be of most use, orders were placed, and pallets of supplies began arriving. With our doors closed to the public, staff from across the museum, led by project coordinators Ben Huss and Meg Skaggs, jumped in to help break down pallets, sort supplies, put kits together, and deliver them to local non-profits such as women’s shelters, the Fayetteville Housing Authority, and partners supporting the Marshallese community.
Mary Finch, resident engagement coordinator at Fayetteville Housing Authority explained, “Because of the generosity of Crystal Bridges and other partners, our new residents who arrive with nothing now receive a cartload of items for their apartment that enriches their first night in their new home. Instead of walking into an empty home—with usually just a sleeping bag and a backpack—they now have the items that they need to take a shower, cook a meal, work on art, and sleep on a mattress!”
Museum staff continues to assemble and distribute a variety of art kits. Segerlin reflected, “Meg Skaggs and Ben Huss truly had a major undertaking within a very short time span in managing supplies, assembly, staff volunteers, and deliveries. While they were pulling together the personal care and housing kits, they were also managing roll-out of over 2,000 My Museum Kits. Big kudos to them and all the staff members who helped assemble and deliver. I am astounded by what the team was able to accomplish!”
While it was sometimes a challenge to shift gears and do this kind of work, staff reported that one of the unexpected benefits of the project was having a chance to work together with colleagues from across Crystal Bridges and the Momentary, and—most importantly—to make a contribution to community members during a difficult time.
Thanks to Housing team members Shelena Taylor, Taylor Pecktal, Ana Aguayo, Ben Huss, Meg Skaggs, Scott Eccleston, Sara Segerlin, Zessna Osborn, and all Crystal Bridges and Momentary staff who contributed to this effort!
Learn more about the museum’s Community Outreach Initiative here.
Written by Robin Groesbeck, director of exhibitions and interpretation, Crystal Bridges.