Seitu Jones | At the Crossroads > 2020: Crisis Response

Prior to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus and its associated disease, COVID-19, nearly a third of central Indiana communities were classified as food deserts. As a result of a century’s worth of racially biased housing and environmental policies, many of the neighborhoods surrounding Newfields already suffered from very limited access to fresh, nutritious food. This was the topic of the over-the-table conversation that we facilitated in October of 2019 for At the Crossroads: A Community Meal. For this project, more than 250 Indianapolis residents gathered around a 400 foot-long table to discuss the inequities of food access in central Indiana and how we might come together to address the issue.

Within a matter of months, our economy has been hit hard by a global pandemic. The outbreak of this disease, for which we still have no approved treatments or vaccine, has led to massive-scale closure of businesses – large and small – in an effort to flatten the curve. This disruption, amounting to more than 300,000 first-time unemployment claims in Indiana between March 16 and April 4, is wildly unprecedented and has already been felt deeply by the very communities who were vulnerable prior to the outbreak.

After several conversations with many of the organizations and individuals we partnered with for At the Crossroads: A Community Meal, a number of themes have emerged:

1) The need for fresh, nutritious food is more urgent now than ever. With hundreds of thousands of layoffs, school closures, limited access to childcare, and widespread raiding of grocery stores, families need to provide more meals to their children and must do so under the conditions of massive-scale unemployment and panic-driven scarcity.

2) Communities need not only to be fed, but also to be strengthened. Half of our partners outlined that any funds granted to their organization would contribute not only to the production and distribution of fresh food, but also to wages for those they employ. Two of these organizations focus on engaging young people ranging from ages 12-24 in a process of continual learning and developing urban agricultural skills that they can share with their families. These skills prove to be invaluable in a time such as this when an already precarious relationship with food security is exacerbated by global shutdown and collective panic.

3) At the Crossroads partners are doing more with less. These foundations and gardens are responding to this crisis by increasing their capacity to serve their communities, but they are doing so with fewer resources. Stay-at-home orders have restricted their ability to rely on robust pools of volunteers, and the restaurants and farmers’ markets that generate the majority of their revenue have been shut down.

Given the circumstances, Newfields re-allocated funds that had been earmarked for At the Crossroads: A Community Meal to address this crisis through direct support to our partners who have launched initiatives to further lower the barrier of access to fresh, locally grown food.


Flanner House of Indianapolis has, for 122 years, been at the epicenter of helping people move to a place of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. The organization strives to improve the quality of life for residents on the Northwest side of Indianapolis. Focusing on Education, Employment, Wellness, Peace and Safety, Economic Development, and Food Justice, Flanner House is prepared to serve the evolving needs of area residents.
COVID Response Project: In order to maintain the health of their bee colony, Flanner Farms will expand their hive as well as provide materials for necessary maintenance to care for the growing colony.
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Groundwork Indy’s mission is to bring about the sustained regeneration, improvement and management of the physical environment by developing community-based partnerships which empower people, businesses and organizations to promote environmental, economic and social well-being. Groundwork Indy engages in community-based strategies for revitalizing neighborhoods with initiatives in Youth Development, Greenways and Parks, Brownfields and Vacant Land, and Community Health.
COVID Response Project: In response to food shortages and school closures, Groundwork’s youth employees will grow food at home with their families and will be provided a garden kit including a raised bed or container, garden soil, tools and plants of their choice. Newfields support will cover the costs of 14 comprehensive garden kits.
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Growing Places Indy is a nonprofit in Indianapolis, Indiana, on the Near Eastside with a mission to cultivate wellness through urban agriculture, access to fresh local food, and mind-body education. Growing Places Indy operates four urban farm sites and is the co-founder and host of the Indy Winter Farmers Market, one of the largest winter markets in the state of Indiana.
COVID Response Project: To support a 50% increase in SNAP usage, Growing Places Indy is launching the Double Up Food Program, which doubles program participants’ spending power by giving SNAP recipients an extra $20 to spend on fruits and vegetables throughout the growing season. Newfields support will cover the costs of 200 participants of the program.
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Lawrence Community Gardens is committed to improving access to fresh food and advocating for food equality for low income residents living in food deserts through direct donations to neighbors, donations to area pantries, and through their "you pick for free" area at the garden. LCG's participation in farmers markets, its roadside stand, and its mobile farm stand provide affordable access to neighbors on the Far Eastside of Indianapolis. They educate the community on organic agriculture practices and work to increase vegetable and fruit consumption while raising food and health awareness. Lawrence Community Gardens is engaging people with hands on experience through programming, volunteerism, and educational workshops.
COVID Response Project: Newfields support provided materials to outfit the mobile farm unit with refrigeration to increase produce quality and shelf life. Additional in-kind donation includes 30 cubic yards of compost that will support garden health.
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Riverside Regional Park Foundation centers on providing assistance to the Riverside Regional Park with programming and fund development initiatives as it relates to both the park and family center. The foundation’s mission is to offer volunteer and supplemental financial support to enhance and endorse quality recreational services and programs.
COVID Response Project: To meet the growing need for youth, families and senior citizens to access healthy food, The Riverside Regional Park Foundation has been providing free lunches to youth in the park to supplement the Indy Parks food program. Support provided by Newfields will help to cover costs related to the procurement and distribution of healthy youth snacks, non-perishables for families, and fresh produce for senior citizens.
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The program is supported by an award from Lilly Endowment, Inc.

Photos courtesy of Flanner House of Indianapolis, Groundwork Indy, Growing Places Indy, Lawrence Community Gardens, and Riverside Regional Park Foundation