We are not alone when we state emphatically that the past 15 months changed us. Yellow House reopens a changed organization, ready to strengthen our mission to engage art to build civic engagement, support artists, and speak truth. Community care has always sat at the heart of our work, and that commitment has deepened during a time of pandemic, racial reckoning, and transitions in the lives of those we stand with. The physical space of Yellow House was closed but our work was continuing and adapting … with flexibility.
One of the most significant transformations has been our work in defining SUSTENANCE. Lifting up stories and experiences through the art of others and one’s own creative expression are absolutes for us, but so are concepts of solidarity, sanctuary, and recognizing what makes us whole. The most obvious aspect of sustenance is, of course, having food in our belly. During the pandemic, we became more committed to helping where we could as we took care of our own bodies, as well as others.
Building on our shared learning, since Hurricane Irma, with the residents of the Ken Knight Drive community, we listened carefully to their evolving concerns during the COVID-19 lockdown. We also heard loud and clear from our immediate neighbors and refugee families falling through the social service cracks that access to food, especially fresh food, was challenging as work dried up, kids were home, and resources grew more and more slim.
We became aware of and awed by the emerging effort of our friend Angela TenBroeck at Worldwide Aquaponics, a farm and sustainability program in Hastings, FL, to support local farmers and help people who were hungry in the early days of the pandemic. Stories of farmers without customers for their fresh produce, while at the same time, many families were lining up for assistance in unprecedented numbers, were in the news often.
We offered our labor once a week in the pack house on the farm, which was reciprocated with a car of fresh produce that we brought back to our communities. Bags of fresh produce were dropped on doorsteps, along with books and messages of hope, at homes on Ken Knight Drive, with peers doing direct distribution to refugee families, and in the blocks surrounding Yellow House.
This partnership also allowed Yellow House to erect a pop-up, free produce stand via a folding table, on our King Street grounds which quickly has become a gathering place to connect to our neighbors in a safe way, while also bringing sustenance into the neighborhood. During the long summer, books and art supplies joined the cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, and plums. When schools announced their return, we became a place for sharing school supplies. And when it turned cold, scarves and hats kept neighbors warm(er) and the hands of local knitters very busy.
A modest folding table became a place of mutual aid, where people freely offer and receive, and has now expanded into something of beauty and dignity thanks to the generosity of the R.G. and Ann F. Skinner Endowment and the brilliant work of the team at Eco Relics.
Only days before we reopened last week, Eco Relics delivered their labor of love — the Community Care Cart — which provides a more appropriate space for this ongoing exchange. We are so appreciative of their attention to detail in making a fully-recycled, functional, and simply stunning shed for sharing sustenance.
In the coming weeks, local artist Jarret Walker will add his touch, honoring those who live close by, who have given us space within this place. And we have now taken art to the farm with a new mural by Nico.
And as we receive and distribute produce, feminine hygiene items, art supplies, recipe cards, books, and information, we hope you will join this movement that is well underway in our community and support groups like Radical Aid Jax, Florida Rising’s monthly Mutual Aid Exchange focusing on storm preparedness as we enter hurricane season, and the various individuals and grassroots organizations looking to provide direct support for one another…in all its forms.
There is an important role for the non-profit, healthcare, and governmental sectors to play, but there is also something important about seeing one another and recognizing the power of people caring for one another despite the political and economic climate. Disparities that result from long term apathy, disinvestment, marginalization, racism, and classism are very much with us.
This caring cooperative at Yellow House is an attempt to address real needs, in real ways, using the gifts, skills, and resources at hand. This is not charity, but a hyper-local recognition of our common humanity and the needs we each have that can be met through aid, activism, education, and radical love — even on this humble scale.
We offer deep bows of gratitude to all who continue to give and receive as part of our collective desire and need to be whole – the artists, the farmers, the volunteers, the neighbors, the collaborators, the anti-racism warriors, the poets, the families, the builders, the funders, the workers, the backyard gardeners, the entrepreneurs, the joy makers, and the truth tellers, and the dreamers.
Let us know what you need or what you have to offer. Or, better yet, just drop by. This is YOUR space!