Like many organizations, when the scale of COVID-19 became apparent in March of 2020 Bloomfield Development Corporation was forced to quickly pivot and adapt in order to keep our staff, board, and neighbors safe. Our staff and board spent countless hours in Zoom meetings and online communication became the norm. Meetings that would normally be a reason to build community and socialize became a learning experience for all of us. While not everything in 2020 went the way we planned, we were able to start new initiatives and find creative ways to support the neighborhood that will continue in 2021 and beyond.
When it became clear that the pandemic required drastic change of our programs, we were less than two months from the beginning of the Bloomfield Saturday Market summer season. The traditional market layout wouldn’t allow for proper social distancing and that many of the more hands-on experiences of the market would have to be modified. Despite the challenges we were committed to offering a safe environment for neighbors to gain access to an essential service, providing local food while also supporting small businesses to whom the Saturday Market income was critical. We redesigned the layout of the market, instituting a one way flow, limiting capacity, and requiring masks in order to keep things as safe as possible. We were able to safely hold the Saturday Market all season serving over 35,000 visitors and having a total of $28,000 in SNAP and Food Bucks spent, a 280% increase over 2019.
In addition to ensuring the market opened on time, our board worked to deepen our organizational commitment to the values of inclusion and equity. A new Intersectional Anti-Racism committee was formed to ensure that every program and project was built on an inclusive, accessible framework, to identify bias and exclusionary practices within BDC, and to restructure and monitor our systems and processes. One of the first projects the committee helped to implement was a new scholarship program for vendors who are Black and People of Color to attend the Bloomfield Saturday Market. Recognizing that farmers markets are traditionally white spaces and the ways in which People of Color have been denied access to capital, our goal is that minority entrepreneurs have an equal opportunity to access the revenue that the Saturday Market can provide. Our first two scholarship recipients joined us in December as vendors for our winter market. The Intersectional Anti-Racism Committee’s next project is hiring a consultant to further the work of BDC’s board and staff to undo white supremacy within our own organization.
As COVID-19 continued to shut down or limit business operations into the Spring we knew that many Bloomfield residents and small businesses were struggling with costs that had become burdensome. In order to provide assistance, BDC launched a Neighbors In Need Fund to offer emergency assistance in the form of small grants. Grants of up to $500 have been used to help cover critical needs such as rent, utilities, and childcare. In total BDC granted approximately $9,000 to 19 neighbors who needed assistance. The Neighbors In Need Fund has continued to operate as additional funds have been raised.
Despite more people than ever staying at home we know that neighbors still need to travel and that eventually things will return to normal. Before COVID-19 had become a concern, BDC had started to work with Studio for Spatial Practice to develop a set of “mobility principles” for the neighborhood. Instead of the indoor meetings we had planned, a series of outdoor pop-up workshops were held outside of the Bloomfield Saturday Market and Linea Verde. We gathered input from neighbors about their experience travelling in and around Bloomfield while walking, biking, or driving. Using the feedback from neighbors, Studio for Spatial Practice is working to create a set of principles to direct BDC’s advocacy and work around transportation and street design.
Small businesses have struggled during the pandemic. BDC was able to provide over $10,000 in grants to businesses to replace broken equipment and to help take advantage of outdoor space. Additionally, the neighborhoods of Bloomfield, Garfield, and Lawrenceville were awarded a grant from RK Mellon to create a single online business directory and events platform. Launching in February and designed by Bloomfield-based C-leveled, the grant funds will allow us to match gift card purchases to small businesses, host business-promoting events, and increase the visibility of our neighborhoods’ small businesses. These grant funds supported the holiday Bloomfield Blitzin’ and Garfield Glitzin’ promotions that rewarded folks who shopped local with gift cards. BDC and BGC jointly gave away over $1,400 in gift cards, with every person who submitted receipts winning at least one gift card.
A grant from the Urban Redevelopment Authority is supporting the launch of neighborhood subscription boxes, which have grown in popularity over the years for things such as self care and home goods. The first box, to launch in late winter or early spring, will focus on the Penn/Main corridor and bring together items and gift cards from businesses. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve continued to connect our businesses with funding, information, and services, taking pride in quickly responding to their needs.
BDC is here as a resource and source of support for residents and businesses. If you need help getting SNAP benefits, paying for a critical need, navigating a City process or permit, dealing with an issue on your street, expanding your business outside, we’re here for you. You can reach BDC staff at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412.681.8800.