by PETER DORFMAN
Nicole Johnson has seen the coronavirus pandemic from the perspective of residents in subsidized housing. She lives in Crestmont, a mixed-generation, densely populated, low-income area of Bloomington’s West Side. “I come from a background where I’ve used social services,” she says. “Why wouldn’t I want to give back?”
Johnson, a graphic artist with a social science background, has started two organizations—Mutual Aid Masks and the Pigeon Hill Pantry.
Mutual Aid Masks promotes its mission through the umbrella organization Monroe County Area Mutual Aid, whose Facebook group has over 5,000 members. The mission is to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the vulnerable populations of Bloomington and Monroe County through education and distribution of personal protective equipment—mainly masks—to those populations and the organizations that serve them, regardless of ability to pay. “We’re trying to make sure people who want to wear masks have them,” Johnson says.
Transmission rates are highest in health care facilities, especially long- term care, group homes, and homeless shelters; correctional facilities; and crowded multi-generational housing. Johnson also has distributed masks at public gatherings like the June 5 “Enough Is Enough” demonstration against police brutality and the Black Lives Matter B-town Juneteenth celebration.
Pigeon Hill Pantry serves Bloomington Housing Authority residents in the Crestmont and Rev. Butler communities, providing household products not eligible for coverage by food stamps. “The pantry has everything from personal health supplies and hygiene products to cleaning supplies, diapers, baby formula, as well as food, including animal food, all of which has been donated,” Johnson notes. “It’s pretty well stocked. I promote it through the Mutual Aid and Pigeon Hill Facebook pages, and magically things show up at my back door.”
Johnson knows dislocation from disasters through direct experience. Originally from New Orleans, she was displaced by Hurricane Katrina. She and her then-husband took their children to her mother’s home in Mesa, Arizona. In 2010, they moved to Bloomington, where Johnson’s now ex-husband had grown up.
Johnson, 43, lives with her current partner and four children. “We are extremely fortunate,” she allows. “I work in customer service and my employer allows me to telecommute; my co-parent works for Indiana University, and he has been on COVID leave. So we haven’t had to leave the house during the pandemic.”
Pigeon Hill Pantry is on Facebook— facebook.com/pigeonhillpantry/—and reachable at 812-266-0779. Mutual Aid Masks is at facebook.com/mutualaidmasks.