Karin McKenna is an all around amazing artist and person. Her stunning commercial and editorial photography tells the stories of the individuals and communities around her. Her projects often focus on food-related businesses and social justice issues, two of her passions.
As her beloved restaurants and farms were hit hard by the pandemic, she quietly shifted gears from photo shoots to helping others. She drew on her vast network of connections within the food and healthcare industries to set up #LocalEats4Heroes, a project that provides meals to first responders while simultaneously supporting local restaurants.
When I first asked her to talk about this project, she did so carefully – like a lot of creative people, she’s more comfortable putting others in the spotlight than being in it herself. She speaks to the challenges of doing good – and growing that good – with integrity, even when it’s uncomfortable.
I hope you enjoy.
Just a few weeks ago, my creative world was filled with planning upcoming shoots and finding ways to connect with restaurant and farming communities. I was part of a project with Freshwater Cleveland led by a group of strong, thoughtful women. It was an incredible energy to be part of. Planning for monthly shoots with local chefs was underway with a produce rescue company. Shoots were planned for the women involved in the maternal health and infant mortality portion of the CLE + AKR Informed Communities project. And various assignments were coming in from the magazines I regularly shoot for.
This all changed in a heartbeat once I realized how serious this virus is and the need to flatten the curve. On top of it all I have some annoying immune system problems that make me more at-risk, which scares me a bit. I haven’t been out in public since March 14th, and don’t know when I will feel comfortable doing so even as things open back up. It’s pretty disconcerting not knowing.
In addition, I have a long-time friend who is a firefighter and another who is an OR nurse. I heard their daily struggles with everything from not having proper protective gear, to her routine for disinfecting herself every night to protecting her family, to their worries that no one was taking this seriously. I felt like I just wanted to do something nice to say ‘Thank you, we see you, we appreciate you; we’re so stunned by how brave and amazing you are!’
So I started ordering meals for groups of first responders from local restaurants. It was a way to say thank you that also supported my many colleagues in the restaurant world whose lives had been shattered into thousands of pieces all at once. I just texted them and said, “hey can you make and deliver meals for the nurses at the VA on Monday?’ I quickly learned that it made the recipients feel appreciated, and it seemed like a pretty great win-win.
I posted the idea for others online because it seemed so easy, but it turned out most people didn’t know quite where to start. I realized then that I know a LOT of different people because of my job. Plus, I love connecting people and making things come together.
So I started a GoFundMe which was a hugely uncomfortable decision. I don’t ask for much help, I don’t lead people, I just work behind the scenes and get shit done. But I knew it was important and I couldn’t keep paying for it myself.
So far we’ve raised around $2000, and have meals going out for the next few weeks. And, our independent little restaurants get a nice bit of income to help them along. Details are still being sorted out, and I can’t wait to get more photos from the people involved because that’s what I love to share. I get tears in my eyes when I see the actual faces of the people out there risking their well-being to help everyone collectively make it through this.
Multiply it all times a zillion and that’s what they deserve.”– Karin McKenna
Thank you Karin for the beauty you bring to this world, in all its forms.
If you want to contribute to her GoFundMe project, you can do so here.
A boxed meal runs approximately $10-15, and goes to a frontline worker in the Northeast Ohio area.
I love everything about this article and Karin’s work. How inspiring!
Brava and much admiration for Karin McKenna!!