It’s been hard to know what exactly to say the last couple of weeks. At Art Feeds, our work has brought us to the gut center of disasters and the needs of children there. We’ve weathered tornadoes and painted, danced, and created our way through them. We’ve shown up after devastating floods with art packs and superhero capes to begin the healing process. We’ve created murals in newly rebuilt spaces that were once destroyed. We’ve been working through the pain of when life gets turned upside down and we’ve stayed alongside the children we serve as they heal from their trauma by the thousands.
In the early years of Art Feeds, our COO Brooke and I lived in a small house that was destroyed by a tornado in Joplin, MO. It leveled the town and so much more than just physical structures. Everything in our home and the Art Feeds van was destroyed. I was so young, 21, and had no renters insurance and barely anything to my name. When FEMA came and inspected our house, their math gave me $2,000 for my belongings. But what about all the art supplies that were destroyed? Those art supplies were priceless and it’s exactly what we need right now, I thought. When that check came in, I sat on the curb by the mailbox and decided to use that check for art supplies. That summer, with a start of a $2,000 FEMA check, we worked with over 2,000 children in summer school to begin the healing process. Our question and motivation has always been: but who is caring for the kids?
Because, while parents mull over budgets and how to stretch the groceries, and when parents become at-home teachers or lose their jobs, or work from home amongst children twirling in their office or bouncing on the couch, and while parents worry about where to live and how they will provide--children are there, witnessing and feeling it all.
That’s why on March 16, 2020 (a lifetime ago?) when we learned that our local school partners would be closing school, it wasn’t a tough decision for us to empty our office and distribute every single piece of art supplies to the most vulnerable children in our community. One teacher told us they found 30 children living in a local motel with no more than the clothes on their backs inside those walls; no wifi for online learning, no supplies for safe indoor play. We organized assembly lines to create emergency art kits and mobilized alongside educators to send these emergency art kits out with grab-and-go and pick-up lunch and delivery. “Today I watched a toddler tear up when peeking into a big bag of fresh new art supplies,” shared a teacher on the delivery route.
Over the span of 10 days we gave 900 emergency art kits to 900 children and families in Northwest Arkansas and Southwest Missouri. But I will tell you that we made this decision with the awareness and uncertainty about whether our doors would stay open through this pandemic or not. We knew we would do what we’ve always done, which is do everything we can, where we are, with what we have. I thought of that FEMA check years ago and the art supplies we bought with it. It was money I probably should have used to buy some clothes or a new mattress, but I don't regret these decisions, not for one second. On March 16th, it very briefly crossed my mind that maybe we should save the art supplies for later. But my gut told me that now is the time. Not later. The need is great right now for the communities and children we serve.
Even in this time of uncertainty, while our small staff is balancing the urgent needs of families and our organization’s need to stay open in the future, we are still working hard on emergency art kits- 200 more are positioned to go out next week.
Our mighty team of 3 employees, one full-time and 2 part-time, paired with interns and contracted staff, reaches over 7,000 children each year. That means that on our operating budget, every $38 given to our team provides for a child. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. For the price of a dinner out for two, we’re impacting a vulnerable child for an entire year. That’s a full year of programming to promote expression, creative problem solving and cultivating social and emotional skills.
With less staff, fewer available hours, and all separated for social distancing, we’ve still been working around the clock. Because, children and our “for the kids” mantra is always at the forefront of our minds. We’ve been creating free online resources, free project tutorial videos, project boxes to be delivered safely to your doorstep and are still doing what we’ve always done best- reaching children in the thick of it with our Trauma Curriculum on Art Feeds Online.
Transparency and authenticity are core values at Art Feeds. If I am being both transparent and authentic, then I need to share with you that we are doing all of these things with a big question mark of survival looming over our heads.
I’m certain that we are needed as an organization now more than ever. The chronic trauma that our children are now facing will affect them for years to come. We are experts in how to meet this need with our specialized curriculum and training. We’ve worked for 10 years understanding the best modes of expression, building the most robust lessons, and we’ve been testing the lessons in traumatic situations all over the world and we’ve seen the positive results. We know that when children are welcomed back into the schools, and while they are now at home, this expression is imperative for their mental and emotional health now and later.
Yet, for the first time in our 10 years of existence, I’m looking at a situation that I may not be able to overcome with hard work and scrappiness. That has always been my go-to approach, just work harder, work smarter. When I say we are a small and mighty team, I mean it. Each of our staff members is paid less than $38,000 per year but puts their whole soul into the work. We are innovative, we pivot, we create, we imagine, we problem solve. Yet in this moment, there’s so much out of our control.
Through our Community Assist Program, we’ve committed to providing free training, curriculum, supplies and ongoing support to 20+ organizations and schools and over 7,000 children in the 2020-2021 school year. But we are not sure in this moment if we will make it to next school year.
Every dollar we earn comes through Art Feeds Online memberships, online fundraisers, store sales and grant writing. We are not federally funded. We’ve been proud that we have been an organization that functions on over 40% individual donations. These are small donations from hundreds of everyday people that believe in our mission- donations in the amount of $25, $50 or $100. But in times as hard as these, when jobs are lost and budgets are tight, donations are the first thing to be cut from family budgets. In scarce times, generosity is tested and our donation income has slowed. This impacts us directly and significantly. It makes the ground underneath us shaky and breaks our hearts that we may not make it through this. And we know that we could be -and are- an enormous resource during hard times like these.
Our biggest annual fundraiser was supposed to be next week and we have put it on hold. We’re studying our financial reports and cutting our already lean overhead wherever we can. We've been applying for grant after grant of emergency COVID funding all week. We’ve been packaging project boxes to get art supplies safely to your doorstep. But the need is high across the board and none of those grant funds or sales are guaranteed.
As an organization that has thrived on individual donors, we are asking that if you have anything to give- even $5 or $25, please give it now knowing that what we have to give to the children of our community is important and imperative. We know that not everyone has financial stability at this moment, but there are 2,300 subscribers on this list and if each donates $10, that will get us to the other side. If you’re stable financially right now and have more to give, the time is now to keep Art Feeds thriving for the children who need it.
We’ve also learned that the CARES Act that became law on March 27th includes a universal charitable deduction which allows all taxpayers, even those who do not currently itemize their deductions, to claim a charitable deduction for cash donations up to $300. Also, taxpayers who are 65 years or older can claim an additional deduction of $1,300. You can donate via our website or via Facebook here.
Now and forever, practicing what our mantra teaches us:
Love Naively. Give Generously. Be Foolishly Compassionate.
Art Feeds Founder | CEO