We couldn’t let the 2020 year end without attempting to host one official program in our brand new (to us) space. So, we decided to host a Covid-conscious in- person “Ho Ho Ho Grab n’ Go” holiday event for one night only on December 21st. We opened from 5-6:30 PM and provided 38 LGBTQ youth with a hot boxed dinner from a locally owned restaurant, personal care items, candy and gifts, plus access to free and confidential drive-through HIV/STI and rapid COVID testing on their way out! This allowed youth the opportunity to stop by and access sorely needed supplies and services, grab a meal, support a local restaurant, see our space if they hadn’t already, AND it gave us the opportunity to see their faces and check in on them in person. While we’ve had the incredible opportunity to expand and offer state-wide online programs, many other centers would agree that in-person check-ins are invaluable. What’s important to note is that we’re just a staff of 2. So, this program is something that can be replicated with a relatively low lift, and big impact!
Which of these 4 areas your does the project, program or initiative fall under?
- Programmatic innovation and community connection
- Capacity building and financial success
- Organizational culture and team building
- Community empowerment, diversity, equity, and inclusion
Why was the project/initiative/program implemented? What was the need or gap and how did it help bridge that need/gap?
In the good old days when we were always open, youth would have full access to free HIV/STI testing and a range of personal care items such as shampoo/conditioner, nail clippers, toothpaste/toothbrushes, socks, period products, condoms, and more. When we closed in March 2020, youth lost access to regular testing and supplemental support for accessing personal care items. That need for safe and confidential testing never stopped, nor did their need for personal care items, so it was important to offer those same resources in a quick, safe COVID-conscious space. Through our new Grab n’ Go program, youth had access to a warm boxed meal to go, personal care items, face masks, LGBTQ library book check-out, and free drive-through HIV/STI and COVID-19 testing on their way out!
Who does this project/initiative/program benefit?
Our programs are free and open to LGBTQ youth and strongly allied individuals, ages 13-24. Although we have moved all of our programs online and are now serving the entire state, we recognize that not all youth will have the opportunity to connect with us due to lack of tech or internet access at home. This in-person socially distanced event allowed for a good number of those individuals who we don’t often see in online programs to participate, connect to community, receive resources and care. One youth reported that it was the first and only “parent-approved” outing in months.
How and when was this project/initiative/program initiated?
After months of sitting on top of donations, and missing our community, we wanted to open up the center for a safe and socially distanced quick grab n’ go opportunity. We had most of the personal care supply items on hand, and knew which local restaurants we wanted to support, so we simply had to get the word out and coordinate logistics!
What key components made this project/initiative/program a success?
This program would not have been possible without immense community support. Our Birmingham community is fiercely supportive and this program was possible entirely through individual donations. Beyond that, when we request donations from our community we take care to ask for racially inclusive, LGBTQ, sensory, and environmentally friendly brands, i.e.– hair products for natural hair, scent-free products, period products that aren’t super gendered, etc, and our community stepped up to meet those needs. Our dinner options were catered by two local business, one being an LGBTQ- inclusive Black-owned restaurant and the other an LGBTQ women-owned vegan restaurant. All of this is relevant to the success of the event because it deeply mattered that our youth see businesses and individuals in our southern community that support them and share their values. And of course, we pumped some inclusive holiday music by LGBTQ artists during the event so that was key to making a festive environment where folks felt excited, comfortable, and affirmed to shop the personal care store.
What challenges/roadblocks did you experience during the implementation and how did you overcome them?
Our Ho Ho Ho Grab n’ Go was the first non-appointment in-person event in nearly 9 months. We were anxious about opening the space up to a large number of individuals, even for a brief period of time, maintaining social distance, and raising funds to provide 40+ meals. Thankfully, everyone arrived with masks on and noses covered and behaved in accordance with the social distancing guidelines we’d developed for our space. Seeing this event as a limited trial run also gave us the opportunity to plan more safety adjustments for the next time.
How has this impacted your center’s operations and local community?
Being that we are a high-risk staff of only two, we have hosted zero in-person non-emergency programs since COVID began last March. This Grab n’ Go program not only provided the opportunity to take steps toward holding more in-person events, but also proved a strong interest and need for these programs. Initially, we had some concern that youth may not find value in an event where they would need to secure transportation only to be in the building for 15-20 minutes, but the excitement and need was greatly demonstrated.
Nearly 40 youth and young adults cycled safely through the space, happily grabbed dinner, stocked up on personal care supplies, and had some sorely needed masked-face-to-masked-face time at our center for the first time in 9 months. Youth were excited to share all those things that we don’t always get to affirm via our text-based Discord server such as voice updates after HRT, new hairstyles, and even just seeing our building for the first time to gain the knowledge that there is in fact a big LGBTQ building in their city! It was also an opportunity for supportive parents to meet our staff, learn about our work and build trust and confidence in our programs.
What are the next steps?
We love this as a model for providing safe in-person programs, and supporting local restaurants and organizations in the process. We have plans to support a local LGBTQ-inclusive indie theatre with a private movie rental for masked and distanced viewing of LGBTQ films, as well as more monthly Grab n’ Go events to provide youth with much needed access to food, personal care items, regular and free HIV/STI testing, and free COVID testing. We love providing state-wide online programs, but it’s important to show people that we have a physical space where they can be warm, fed, and affirmed. We may not have the capacity to hold that space as often as before, but it is nice to know that we can safely do so once in a while.
How could other centers learn from this?
We have a small but mighty staff, so it often feels like we’re challenging ourselves to create programs at the level we’ve seen much larger organizations create to serve their communities. For other small centers, programs like this can be a low-lift big-impact project for the youth you serve.
Amanda Keller, Director, Magic City Acceptance Center, She/Her/Hers