Through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, people continue to grow food, explore the outdoors, bring aid to their neighbors, and vote in elections. In October 2020, five Neighborhood Mini-Grants were awarded to Parents2Polls Tompkins, Ellis Hollow Nursery School, the Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming, The Village at Ithaca, and Khuba International.

Yael Saar, co-founder of Parents2Polls Tompkins, offered childcare while parents voted on Election Day.

Parents2Polls Tompkins is a nonpartisan volunteer-run initiative launched in fall 2020 to make in-person voting more accessible for all in Tompkins County. During the early voting period for the 2020 general election, volunteers at the two poll sites offered child and pet supervision, chairs, information, parking guidance, and other assistance to voters waiting in line. On Election Day, they provided voters with free drop-in childcare at the Southside Community Center. A Neighborhood Mini-Grant funded publicity for the project.

Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming is creating a pond on their Incubator Farm at EcoVillage Ithaca, with a solar-powered pump transferring water to an irrigation system and ending the farm’s costly dependence on municipal water. Created to provide short-term access to land and support for growers who face systemic barriers to starting businesses, the farm is currently used by 11 businesses — mostly ethnic Karen refugees from Burma — to grow vegetables, by Challenge Industries for the flower CSA run by the Ability in Bloom workforce development program, by the Groundswell Center to grow a “solidarity garden” of produce distributed to residents of West Village Apartments, and more. A Neighborhood Mini-Grant will support the purchase of the solar pump.

The Village at Ithaca has acquired a fleet of used bicycles for their youth employees, who assist with academic support programs, mutual aid delivery, and errands throughout the City of Ithaca. The bicycles will allow these teenagers, who face varying barriers to employment, the independence to effectively carry out Village at Ithaca’s mission to ensure that Ithaca students of all demographics thrive in and out of school. A Neighborhood Mini-Grant will contribute to the purchase of a bike rack for the new fleet, built by local metalworker Durand van Doren.

Ellis Hollow Nursery School plans to improve the nature trails adjacent to the Ellis Hollow Community Center. Always a free recreation space for Ellis Hollow residents and visitors, the trails and surrounding area became a vital “classroom” for the onsite nursery school when it transitioned to an entirely outdoors nature-based curriculum in fall 2020. Along with improving the trails and removing poison ivy and invasive plants, the renovation project will offer education for all through plant identification tags, and a plant identification learning station. A Neighborhood Mini-Grant will cover all costs of this project, including tools for use in ongoing trail maintenance.

Khuba International, in partnership with Ithaca-based organization The Learning Farm, will pilot their Quarter Acre for the People program at Fort Baptist Farm in Ithaca in 2021. This program will use a quarter-acre of the farm as a vegetable garden and hands-on farming education site for urban, low-income, and racially marginalized families in Tompkins County, with a variety of workshops and weekly training sessions. A Neighborhood Mini-Grant will support the purchase of child-sized tools, educational materials, garden irrigation materials, and compost.

The Neighborhood Mini-Grant Program provides seed money to diverse initiatives to build environmental, economic, and social resilience and well-being in Tompkins County. The program is sponsored by the Park Foundation, Beck Equipment, Craig Riecke, Natural Investments, Fingerlakes Wealth Management, and local donors. We need your support so we can help more citizen leaders act on their values. Please donate today and help us support more wonderful citizen-driven projects to improve life in our community.

The next Neighborhood Mini-Grant application deadline is April 1, 2021. Email to request an application.