“A Holiday Hand” at the Mural on Church Street
By Megan Padilla; photos courtesy of Jennifer Desire
Though still an active construction site, Interstruct’s new HQ in Parramore has helped to serve hundreds of neighbors this holiday season through two events spearheaded by the Jennifer H. Desire Foundation.
The connection between Interstruct and Jennifer Desire began when she became the central figure of the mural on the street-facing wall of the 1940s warehouse on Interstruct’s building at 814 W. Church Street (Read the full story about the mural here). Commissioned during the tumultuous period following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, artist and project lead Maureen Hudas knew she wanted to honor someone in the community. “I didn’t want this to be another memorial,” says Hudas. “I wanted to do something light and hopeful.”
The muse came in the form of Jennifer Desire, a committed activist who, in addition to running her own company Fusion & Co, (an event and artist development agency), also feeds the homeless in Parramore, leads BLM protests in Orlando and gives voice and support to victims of sexual violence. The resulting artwork, which was completed at the end of August, has come to be known as the Unity Mural, and it seems to be doing exactly that.
Students from Jones High School gathered here for a Get Out the Vote event in October. Weeks later, the site—just a few blocks from Exploria Stadium—was used for one of Desire’s annual traditions, providing a full Thanksgiving dinner to people experiencing homelessness in the area. Desire says she usually has to do this on the sly, “since you can’t physically feed homeless people in Orlando without getting fined or hassled by the cops.”
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A partnership begins.
“I reached out to Jennifer and asked how we could help,” says Interstruct CEO Ryan Young. “She needed 20 turkeys and all the ingredients for a holiday meal. We provided all the food, which her mom and aunt then prepared, and then found out she needed a location to set up the event. We volunteered and provided the use of our property, clean temporary bathroom facilities, hand-washing sinks and power for the haircut station.”
“We’re not allowed to feed people hot meals or even set up a tent or table in any public space without getting fined,” says Desire. “I thought using that lot would be a great idea because it would also piggyback on the whole reason behind the mural, to bring hope, love and help to the community.” Plus, due to COVID-19, “more space was needed to safely accommodate everyone we wanted to feed.”
By being on private property, Desire and her volunteers were able to be more visible and better connect with the people who could benefit from the hot holiday meal, clothing, blankets, personal hygiene bags, and haircuts for men and women provided by Jarid, a friend of Jennifer’s who is a licensed barber.
A Holiday Hand
As soon as Thanksgiving ended, Desire moved right into her next ambitious event for the December holiday season, designed to provide bikes, food and gift cards to families who could use “A Holiday Hand.” Building on what already worked, Desire partnered with Interstruct to again use its parking lot to distribute holiday cheer, “because the site, the building, and the mural is slowly becoming a staple—a space where people know that they can find me and hopefully find the help they need,” says Desire.
“It’s easier to say ‘Come grab a hot meal or toys for your kids at the mural on Church Street,'” she says. “It’s crazy because every time I say that, everyone’s face lights up and they talk about how beautiful the mural is.” Some people even recognize Desire as being the woman on the mural and excitedly point it out to her.
For “A Holiday Hand,” Desire’s foundation worked with Jae Fortune and the Pine Hills Partnership to expand the reach to include families in Parramore and Pine Hills. Says Desire, “This year’s ongoing crisis has left thousands of families overwhelmed and in need of a helping hand, and our mission is to lighten the load.”
To help meet that mission, Interstruct directed 100% of its holiday giving to the Jennifer H. Desire Foundation to be directly used to purchase bikes and gift cards. Says Young, “We’re not writing a check to a big organization. Our contribution will directly serve 150 to 200 families in Pine Hills and Parramore. Right now, people are in survival mode and we hope it makes an impact in the neighborhood that we’re going to be a part of.”
On December 17, 2020, 178 families in need of “A Holiday Hand” were able to receive food, gift cards, bikes and other toys. “I get to speak to everyone who walks in to pick up a gift,” says Desire. “Hearing their stories about how hard this year was for them makes me wonder why I worry at times when I struggle. The kids and families expressed how much it means to them to be able to get the help we provided. I’m truly thankful for this initiative and I can’t wait to see how many more great things we can come up with to make our community better in the coming years.”
“From my vantage point,” says Fortune, “this effort was a fulfilling and refreshing way to close out a year that has been both challenging and eye-opening.” The organization he represents primarily focuses its advocacy within Pine Hills but welcomed the opportunity to extend its goodwill into the surrounding community. “This experience was everything we hoped for, and more. I feel that a profound impact was made on every child, and family served, whether they received a gift on that afternoon, or in the days that followed. I find extra joy in knowing that every single family who reached out to us, including two late additions, was accounted for, and accommodated before Christmas day. My team and I look forward to many more collaborations in the future.”
Says Young, “Thank you to Jennifer Desire and her foundation, Jae Fortune and the Pine Hills Partnership, and all the volunteers who made this possible. We appreciate the opportunity to partner with you on this amazing day of giving. Your commitment to our community is inspirational.”