by CARMEN SIERING
When the stay-at-home order was given and most folks settled in their homes to ride out the pandemic, JaQuita Joy Roberts knew that wasn’t going to work for her. Roberts is a doer by nature.
“I’ve always had multiple jobs,” says Roberts, a single mom who works in the Indiana University Black Film Center Archive and also as a manager for Kilroy’s. “I support a lot of local events and volunteer a lot of time. You find a way to give of yourself so the world can be a better place.”
When Nichelle Whitney, senior assistant director in the IU Office of Admissions, put out a call for volunteers to help with the Monroe County Food Train, Roberts was one of the first to hop on board.
“I looked in my refrigerator and boxed up some of my own food because I knew I was going to keep working,” Roberts says. “IU had given us the green light to work from home, but so many people were immediately out of work.”
Whitney created the Food Train when Monroe County Community School Corporation (MCCSC) switched to remote learning in early March. At that time, buses continued running, delivering meals to students in need on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Whitney decided the Food Train would complement that schedule by offering food on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Roberts managed to juggle her work schedule to staff a pickup location at Banneker Community Center, 930 W. 7th St., and brought along her children, Javenique Roberts, 18, and JaQualon Roberts, 15, to help.
“They came with me all those days to give back,” she says. “You can’t just sit around and be effortless.”
Still, as a mother she knew it was hard for her kids, especially for Javenique, who missed out on all the special moments she might have had as a senior at Bloomington High School North.
“So while doing for others, I was still trying to figure out what I could do for my kids,” Roberts says.
One of the things she did was help organize Senior Day at North. With the okay of the MCCSC administration, Roberts got a team together and created an outdoor walk-through event for graduates where they could return laptops, textbooks, and band instruments. Once the official business was done, grads had a (socially distanced) party where they received diplomas and small gifts and treats like cake pops.
“You could see the difference in their faces,” Roberts says. “Coming in they were like, ‘What’s going on?’ What they thought they knew from the emails was nothing like what they actually experienced.”
Roberts says she has a great role model for her community efforts and her efforts as a mother—her own mother, Vanessa Allen-McCloud, president and CEO of the Urban League of Northwest Indiana.
“She’s still doing it,” Roberts says. “One day, I’m handing out food, the next day she is. One day I’m out protesting, the next day she is. People like that motivate you. We motivate each other.”