Enlisting the Power of Community
Part social enterprise, part social services and part local urban garden, Earthlinks
works to end isolation for people experiencing poverty and homelessness while also sustaining the planet. They provide employment opportunities for their members through organic gardening and the creation of Earth-friendly products.
At least that is what they were doing until early March 2020 when the COVID pandemic hit. With 85% of Earthlinks’ community being 55 and older and all living well below the poverty line, the staff knew this population would be disproportionately affected by the virus. They needed to act.
“Our mission was our North Star,” said Sydney Hunter, a full-time volunteer with Earthlinks. “No longer able to participate in our programs, our participants’ need for support and community was even greater.”
Not missing a beat, Sydney and the rest of the Earthlinks team shifted their programmatic focus from in-person workshops to securing housing for their members, getting them off the streets and into safety. Within just a few days, they found hotels for each of their members who were homeless.
Sydney then started to apply for emergency funding and the team asked Earthlinks’ donors and board for donations to cover the additional expenses related to housing and food. They also organized a Mother’s Day plant sale, all done with safe social-distancing practices, to generate additional funds.
“At this point, with everyone safely off the streets, we turned our attention to combatting the isolation that our members were feeling,” Sydney explained. The staff organized check-in calls, hosted a Facebook group, and helped the members reach out to each other.
“I always knew that Earthlinks was successful in building relationships with nature, but COVID showed me how successful we were at building community,” said Sydney. “The members were checking on each other and on staff, making sure we were okay. The strength and empowerment I saw was truly amazing.”
In addition to essentials such as food and prescription medicine, the staff delivered puzzles, activity packets and movies. They also organized a “quarantine quilt,” allowing all members to create a piece that represents what the Earthlinks community means to them.
For Sydney, her quilt shows camomile flowers with Earthlinks’ slogan, “Community Ends Isolation.” She chose the camomile flower specifically because it thrives in harsh conditions. She explains, “In the garden, you won’t find camomile in the fertile soil but in the rocky pathways and the cracks of the sidewalk. They are a testament to collective growth in hard places, which is my hope for our community at this time.”