By Pamela Alderman
During the recent pandemic, when the Michigan government and several other states gave a Shelter in Place order, many people faced the new struggle of being alone behind closed doors. Suddenly, I started hearing some of my friends say, “I’m lonely,” for the first time. This feeling loomed just below the surface for me, too. To counteract this situation of prolonged isolation, I began looking for new ways to engage with others through my community-based art, while still considering safety.
After finishing a previous project of lighting up my neighborhood with 150 luminaries, I ended up with a pile of leftover paper lunch bags. So, I contacted Kids Food Basket, a local nonprofit that feeds about 9,000 children daily, to donate the bags to their program. The leftover bags opened my eyes to three timely opportunities: to help children in need, to provide a positive focus for my friends, and to overcome my own loneliness by serving others.
Next, I created a Lunch Bag Art project and invited Facebook followers to hand-paint the lunch bags. To my surprise, about 40 people volunteered to join our art team, which also included residents from a local nursing home. While people stocked up on toilet paper (true confession, I also bought an extra pack), I purchased hundreds of paper lunch bags, along with 150 mini crayon packets to go with some specially designed “color me” lunch sacks as a DIY project for the children who received them.
Then I assembled forty art kits containing 100 lunch bags, instructions, and supplies—sponges, paintbrushes, foam plate palettes, mini bottles of paint, and even an empty yogurt container to wash the brushes. I labeled the kits with the volunteers’ names and placed them on my front porch for pickup, to maintain social distancing rules. A few days later, the volunteers returned their completed lunch bags to my front porch. The whole program operated smoothly, as I stayed in touch with participants through email and Facebook messenger over a two-week period.
Our volunteer team continued expanding to include kids, teens, young professionals, moms, grandmoms, and friends of friends. A couple of volunteers even picked up supplies for their neighbors, organizing their own mini groups. Everyone expressed such excitement to be part of this endeavor; it offered a welcomed relief from a prolonged period of social isolation, and it gave everyone a positive activity. Plus, this creative pastime provided a chance to be involved in something bigger than ourselves by passing on hope to at-risk children.
This pandemic has reminded me to appreciate the simple gifts in life, like an evening walk with my husband, Zoom calls with friends, and chicken available in the grocery store. Over the last two months, I’ve also watched for additional opportunities to encourage others through art. Instead of succumbing to the overwhelming grief and depression that threatens my own emotional health during this unique, worldwide challenge, I want to focus on others and notice their needs.
As an artist and facilitator who creates hands-on experiences, I’m learning how to adapt my art practices to help keep others safe while still impacting our rapidly changing culture. Because of the hard work of Healing in Art’s wonderful team members, who chose to participate instead of sitting in loneliness, their beautiful lunch bags have spread the message of healing to more than 2,000 children struggling with hunger. Together, regardless of what happens during COVID-19, we will continue to see new opportunities for collective art to be part of the solution in our broken world.
Pamela Alderman founded Healing in Arts, a nonprofit that activates spaces for people to become part of a healing canvas through school workshops, community programs, and social justice art. Currently an M.F.A. student at Azusa Pacific University, Pamela plans to expand her creative mission by further leveraging her collaborative art to guide people through various life issues, like “letting go,” alienation, bullying, school violence, or sex trafficking, so they may experience release and gain a sense of new beginnings.