Categories
Society

Migration is indispensable for the progress of humanity

To honor International Migrant Day, Draftsy discussed the issue of migration with Sarfaraz Khan, project coordinator at Dom’Asile, the association located in Ile-de-France. Founded in 2000, the association helps people who ask for asylum in France. In this exclusive interview for Draftsy, Khan Sarfaraz talks about how migrants are welcomed in France and what struggles they are going through.

Legal consultation by the association Dom’Asile

D: Could you briefly describe what Dom’Asile does for migrants?

SK: Dom’Asile is an association that provides administrative help (domiciliation) to people in exile who do not have a stable accommodation or are excluded from public services and helps them access their administrative and social rights.

We have nine domiciliation and help centers in six departments of the Ile-de-France region, two specialized centers dedicated to helping people to access their social rights, and a support center for people in Parisian camps, in partnership with other associations, active citizens, and lawyers. These centers are entirely run by volunteers to provide people with an administrative address and help them with procedures and social rights.

Let’s clarify the term ‘immigrant.’ This term is used very broadly to include all categories of people who come to live in a foreign country. But the reason or the motivation for it can be very different. Some people leave their homelands in search of a better life, better career, or job opportunities. Others are forced to leave their motherland because of wars, conflicts, and the unlivable conditions threatening their lives. These people have no choice but to flee their countries to seek protection.

Dom’Asile, in fact, works for the rights of this category of persons; that is, it helps people who are in the situation of exile in France. We have different projects. In addition to several domiciliation and help centers in Ile-de-France, Dom’Asile runs an online multilingual and multimedia platform to provide information to asylum seekers, refugees, and people whose asylum requests have been denied. This platform provides information in articles, videos, and audio material. It has an online service to answer questions in different languages to accommodate immigrants that do not speak French. We have projects to help migrants become self-dependent and obtain their rights through our “do it yourself” video tutorials and collective information workshops in different languages.

Moreover, one of the essential activities of Dom’Asile is the advocacy and interpellation of the public authorities. We work with different organizations to monitor institutions’ abusive practices and find the solution to the various administrative blockades these people face.

D: With migrants from which countries do you work most? Are there specific trends that you see?

SK: We help people from many countries. But most of the migrants in our centers are from Bangladesh, Tibet, Soudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Congo, and Sri Lanka. The number of Afghan and Tibetan refugees needing help had recently gone up.

As we work with a specific category of ‘migrants,’ that is, the people who flee their countries to seek protection, it is difficult to talk about trends – in this case, they depend on the political situation in the countries. For example, the top five countries whose citizens applied for protection in France were Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Guinea, and Ivory Coast in recent years.

D: What are the main difficulties that the migrants and asylum seekers are going through in France and Ile-de-France specifically?

SK: Unfortunately, they face a lot of difficulties. France follows international and national laws which confer very well-defined rights to asylum seekers and refugees. For example, an asylum seeker has the right to get quick access to the asylum process, get a subsistence allowance, accommodation, and other basic needs. Once the asylum seeker is recognized as a refugee, they have the right to receive language training, get a resident card, a travel document, and the option to bring their spouse and minor children to France.

Those whose asylum request has been rejected also have rights, including getting a minimum free health care service (called aide médicale d’état), a reduced-priced transport card if living in Ile-de-France, and the right to get their children enrolled in a school.

But, in reality, it’s very difficult to obtain these rights. The first hurdle is the language and the lack of information. A large population of immigrants does not speak French, and they have no idea how the French administration and its jurisdictions function. This makes them utterly dependent on the help and support of humanitarian organizations and volunteers.

Then there is a political unwillingness to provide the refugee assistance services with adequate means to receive these people in good conditions. Take the example of the procedure for applying for asylum in Ile-de-France. Since 2018, the Ofii (the French immigration office) has put in place a system of appointments by telephone. The newly arrived asylum seekers can no longer go directly to an asylum reception center but must call a special number to get an appointment first.

It is very difficult to get through to the operator of that line. People wait 40 to 45 minutes each time they call. They try to get through several times per day, for weeks and sometimes months, in order to get the appointment and start their asylum process. And these calls are not free; they cost migrants money.

As a result, the impossibility of getting a quick appointment creates a lot of stress and fear. They are scared to get in trouble with the police if caught without proof of being an asylum seeker.

Another example of the issue that migrants face is the implementation of dematerialized administrative services. It is a major obstacle for asylum seekers and refugees. Services such as the application for the renewal of the residence card and the récépissé, applying for the family reunification, or to obtain social rights, or getting an appointment, are accessible only through the internet. They cannot come to a reception center to submit an application or ask for an appointment. This has created a huge problem for these people.

On the one hand, having minimal computer and French language skills, they have difficulties understanding the administrative procedures. They have to be able to work on a computer, scan documents, and email them to the administration’s websites.

On the other hand, it is extremely difficult to get an appointment online because there is a very limited number of appointments available. These difficulties make an already challenging situation even worse. If migrants fail to take the necessary steps for their legal and administrative procedures to be done in time, they might face suspension of their social rights, not to mention the loss of their job or trouble with the police.

These people eventually turn to the organizations to seek help, but the organizations are not prepared to provide them with help concerning the new online procedures. Dom’Asile and other organizations are currently fighting with the prefectures to make them increase the number of available appointments and set up at least a few reception points for people who cannot do their paperwork online.

D: How did work with migrants and the way they are treated in France change in the past 10-15 years?

SK: I started working with Dom’Asile in 2004. Much has changed in these years as far as asylum seekers’ and refugees’ rights are concerned. The asylum and immigration law has been reformed twice in the last five 5-6 years: in 2015 by the François Hollande government and 2018 by Emmanuel Macron. Each reform has made the condition of immigrants in France more difficult.

For example, before 2015, there was no fixed time frame to apply for asylum. In 2015 a new law required that people ask for asylum within 120 days, once they have arrived in France. In 2018, it was further shortened to 90 days.

If applied after 90 days, the applicant’s file is examined under a «fast track procedure,» which gives a serious procedural disadvantage for granting the refugee status. Furthermore, it deprives them of any accommodation and asylum seekers’ allowance rights. This makes them extremely vulnerable.

A few years ago, the asylum seekers used to get the subsistence allowance through a bank account, which they could use as they wished. Today they have no bank accounts. They get the allowance through a prepaid card which they can only use in certain commercial stores to buy basic needs. There is no option to withdraw cash from these cards. This has put them in different types of trouble.

One of the problems is the loss of accommodation. More than half of the asylum seekers are not housed by the government in France. They find some kind of private accommodation where they have to pay a small rent. As the landlords can’t receive the rent by card, they ask migrants to pay it in cash, which they can’t do. As a result, they end up on the streets.

Many examples show that in the past 10-15 years, the government’s perception and attitude towards immigrants and asylum seekers have changed for the worse. Migrants are thought about as people who come to France solely to take advantage of its social benefits. Often the asylum seekers are categorized as ‘real’ or ‘fake’ refugees. This change in the perception and attitude reflects clearly in the new asylum and immigration laws. The new reforms have made these people’s lives more difficult as far as the administrative process or their social rights are concerned. The Dublin process (which obliges the asylum seeker to apply for asylum only in the European country in which they arrive first) causes huge suffering to people because if the administration finds that the person had traveled through another European country, it refuses their asylum application to be processed in France. The person is often sent to a detention center to deport them to the country they first arrived at.

There are also a few positive changes in the recent laws. Good measures have been taken to attract talented and qualified immigrants like the introduction of the «talent passport» and the deliverance of multi-annual resident cards.

D: What do you think the French government should do to improve how the country accepts and treats migrants? Is there something that can be done on the European level?

SK: I think Europe does not have to make an extra effort to save the lives and dignity of these people; it just has to live by the rules that it has set for itself. Europe, France, and the whole world had agreed to protect the refugees if they arrived in their countries, so they have the legal obligation to do this under international law. They should create a system by which people who need protection can come to Europe without further risking their lives, an option to arrive legally, instead of making crossing the borders by refugees more difficult by erecting the fences and walls.

It is completely against the international convention of refugee protection, which every country has signed. As far as France is concerned, it has always defined itself with certain values like fraternity, equality, liberty of all kinds, and in every aspect of life. Above all, it claims to be ‘le pays de droit,’ the country of rights. Yet, it fails to protect those rights and assure that more vulnerable people have access to them. I think France has a lot to do to live up to the idea with which it defines itself.

D: How is the activity of Dom’Asile perceived by the government and society?

SK: I think the work of Dom’Asile, as well as all the humanitarian organizations, is much appreciated in France. Many people care about this issue. It is a part of French tradition to speak up against injustice or take to the streets if the rights of people are not respected. In general, people show solidarity with humanitarian organizations. They support them financially or through volunteering.

But they do it silently. That is why you do not see these issues discussed in the media. We get a lot of support from people in the form of donations and through their participation as volunteers in our centers. In fact, all our help centers are run by volunteers. At Dom’Asile, we work with around 200 volunteers who accompany almost 10,000 asylum seekers. The coordination team has only four staff members. Our volunteers do the entire work of our association.

As far as the government is concerned, they are aware of the importance of the work we do, particularly in the domain of domiciliation for people who need an address and the help and information that we provide them in their languages. Still, I think that we often make them dislike us because we do not hesitate to denounce the illegal practices or their inefficacies to provide the exiled people decent essential services.

D: What is your prognosis about the future of migration in France?

SK: Migration is a reality not only because it is inevitable, but also it is indispensable for the progress of humanity, development, and enrichment of countries in terms of economy, culture, art, and science. One of the significant concerns for Europe in general and France, in particular, is its aging population. Attracting the economic migrants, be it for seasonal or highly skilled jobs, should be a genuine concern for people who make policies for France and for Europe.

The fact is that immigration has been a very hot issue here for a long time. Particularly during the elections, the politicians try to polarize the French people around this question. The deliberate prejudices are created against the immigrants. Biases based on fear, anger, and hate can change the behaviors and attitudes of people. We can easily observe it today in France. That is why, although people understand the need for immigrant labor and skilled workers for the development of their country, they seem reluctant when it comes to welcoming migrants.

To learn more about asylum procedure in France follow the link https://domasile.info/en/

Categories
Topic of the month

Volume V – Migration

We launched Draftsy in June 2021 and chose Home as the first topic of the month. The search for our roots, homelessness, and migration are all deeply intertwined. December 18 is the International Migrants Day. We would like to finish the year by talking about migration and complete the conversation about home, belonging, and looking for a better future.

In this issue, we will talk about migration in France, Russia, and the world in general. We will discuss the difficulties people who are forced to leave their countries face in search of a better life and asylum.

We will try to understand the issues of migration policy and social problems. It seems essential to us to draw readers’ attention to this topic because, in the modern world, the division of migrants into “good” and “bad” into legal and illegal is taking root more and more.

Society is banalizing rhetoric about building a wall on the US-Mexico border and erecting barbed wire and barriers along European borders to “protect” the countries from illegal migration.

The Mediterranean Sea has been the center of tragic events for several years, where thousands of migrants die trying to cross it. In France and other European countries, laws are tightened against citizens who distribute food to illegal migrants, who help them move from one point to another and give them shelter.

Migrants cross borders to escape from military conflicts. They leave their countries for political, economic, and climatic reasons and risk their lives by choosing this path. This month we want to tell their stories.

Agrippina&Tatevik

Categories
Free form essays

FLiMM of “mid-length films”

© Simon Arcache

The term “mid-length films” is used very seldomly. We live in a world of full-length movies and short films. In France, this term is not recognized officially, yet such movies exist. Mid-length films are characterized by conditional duration from 30 to 60 minutes. 

They are seldom released, which puts them in opposition to traditional cinema. Besides, the National Center of Cinema in France simply does not recognize the existence of such a format. Financial support in the form of subsidies is instead distributed between short films (1-59min) and full-length movies (over 60min). Nevertheless, there is a festival of mid-length films, the only one of its kind for a long time, – Festival du Cinema de Brive, also called Recontres Internationales du Moyen Metrage (International Cinema-Meetings of Mid-Length films), which has been taking place in the south of France since 2004. 

Another film festival celebrating the format was created in 2017. FLiMM (Festival Libre de Moyen Metrage, or Free festival of mid-length films) was organized by Agathe Debary, Annabelle Avanturin, Thibaul Jaquin Jaquin and Theo Carrere. Thomas Paulot and Bullet Meigna later joined them. The festival takes place in art-squat DOC (which has existed since 2015), located in the 19th department of Paris. About a hundred creative people live and work there. DOC is an association that doesn’t have any commercial purposes. All the points concerning the organization of events are settled by agreement of members of the administrative council. Freedom of the festival expresses itself in several ways.

© Simon Arcache

It starts with the price: everybody pays as much as one can or considers reasonable. Such an approach reflects the social, political, and cultural position of the organizers. The festival is also free in the sense that it’s being based not on competitive aspect. There are no prizes for the best direction or the script. The festival is based on the principle of accessibility and open, respectful dialogue. Everybody is allowed to watch a movie and discuss it with other viewers and the directors who present their films. Movies of all genres are allowed to participate in the festival, but documentary movies prevail because many documentaries have mid-length footage. 

The topics of the movies that qualified for the festival are often social. The festival team sticks to an active life position and tries to show modern cinema that is not afraid to ask difficult and inconvenient questions; movies with heroes you don’t meet in mainstream films. Quite often, it is movies that describe a part of someone’s story or of the life of a state. Movies of a hybrid form deviating from standards are very welcome.

The pandemic had its adjustments during the 4th festival in 2020.

Despite the threat of lockdown, the organizers were getting ready for the festival in a normal rhythm. Five days before the start of the festival, the authorities have imposed a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. All evening sessions and one show outside the squat were canceled. Viewers were forced to leave at 8:30 to observe the curfew. Despite the pandemic, there were many visitors, which was surprising for organizers and volunteers. Everyone was sad to leave so early. More than ever, people wanted to be together and discuss the movies. A day after the festival closed, a national lockdown was declared. All the museums and cinemas were closed again. 

FLiMM is about movies in the first place, but it’s also a great family of friends and relatives of the team who take part in the organization of the festival as volunteers. Technical preparation for the festival begins a week before. Movies are shown in two cinema rooms, one of which is created almost from nothing. It’s an exhibition space with a white wall, equipped with carpet and theater curtains. The curtains, by the way, are rented from one of the largest theaters in Paris.

The last day of the festival is reserved for general cleaning. This year volunteers and carpenters even built a bar stand. The bar is also a very important part of the festival; it is the very place where all gather together to drink a glass of beer at an affordable price and discuss the movie of the night. Guests can also have dinner before the last showing while paying as much as they can afford. A team of volunteer cooks prepares the menu in advance, and the most popular dish is Italian arancini. As the festival is based on volunteer work, it takes place from Friday to Sunday evening. It is always a busy weekend. And for organizers and volunteers, there is always Monday for cleaning and discussing the festival! 

https://flimm.work

https://www.instagram.com/flimmfestival/

Translated by Cyril Korobenin

Categories
Free form essays

Ryan Michael James: the pandemic taught me that before we are artists, we are human

Credit: Anthony Joseph

I started performing professionally when I was 18 years old. At 19, I was offered a job dancing on an international tour, so I left college to travel the world.

That show snowballed into the next and the next — it was all very serendipitous. Before I knew it, eight years had passed, and I was still performing. Living in NYC, I was hustling as any actor does: standing in line at auditions, juggling multiple “survival jobs,” participating in workshops to be noticed by casting directors, traveling for gigs outside of the city, squeezing in classes and lessons to hone my craft.

It was an exhausting grind fueled by caffeine and catnaps on the subway. But for my entire adult life, my primary source of income had been from working as a performer. I’m very lucky because so many people are fruitlessly working to make it in this industry. While I wasn’t Brad Pitt, by any means, performing was paying the bills. 

2019 was a difficult year, and my performing career came to a screeching halt. I was still fortunate to be working, but that work came at a great cost to my mental health.

I was performing on a Broadway national tour with a grueling schedule of countless one-nighters, long travel days, and terrible pay.

“One-nighters” is a phrase used when the show only stops in a city for one night before traveling to the next. There were times we would perform in five or six cities in a single week, with a grand total of 86 cities in a short six-month contract.

While seeing the world may sound exciting, a tour like that usually consists only of the exhausting, tedious parts of travel (busy airports, cramped buses, terrible lunches at rest areas with limited food options).

There were very few opportunities to take advantage of the actual exciting parts of traveling. When my family says to me, “You’ve seen the whole country!” my response is usually, “I’ve seen a lot of hotels and Walmarts.” It was a battle. I was so poor and exhausted, but I was traveling, and I was on stage. Shouldn’t I have been grateful?

Immediately after that tour ended, I began a contract singing onboard a cruise line. That was cut short due to an unfortunate experience I had with a fellow castmate. I was a victim of a bad situation, and when I tried to report the incident and ask for help, management turned a blind eye, and the cruise line fired me without investigating the issue properly.

I felt helpless. I had no money to my name, and I had to move back home to Central Florida to stay with my family. I curled myself up into a pathetic ball in their spare bedroom and didn’t come out for almost a month. I couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong. I had worked so diligently and had done everything supposedly right. What was wrong with me that I had let that happen?

Luckily, I have a wonderful support system, including a best friend who encouraged me to move to Fort Lauderdale with her. She promised to help get me back on my feet, find a job, scrape some money together, and decide whether going back to New York and back into the grind that had nearly killed me before was the right choice.

That’s when the pandemic hit.

At first, it felt like an answer from the Universe. It was obviously a sign that I wasn’t meant to return to performing. With that chapter of my life officially behind me, I was excited to start my new life in South Florida. During those initial few months of the shutdown, I found a job, enrolled myself back into college, moved into my own apartment, and adopted a dog and cat.

I was happy. I was finally able to do all the things that seemed impossible before. I loved spending time sitting on the beach. I cherished nights at home with my animals. I braved the bars and restaurants (when they reopened) in hopes of finding a new tribe of friends. For the first time in my adult life, I felt like a normal human being.  

But I felt empty. My artistic soul was not filled by my new jobs: bartending and answering a customer service hotline. I did everything I could to scratch that creative itch, though. I sang in the car, created silly little music videos, taught myself to play a few songs on my keyboard, watched movies, performed karaoke with friends… But I was nagged by that voice in the back of my head telling me I had given up too soon.

About a year into the pandemic, an audition notice for a small local theater production appeared on Facebook. Coincidentally, the audition happened to be on one of my very rare nights off, and the show was a perfect fit for me. I figured, “What the heck? The worst they can say is no. Besides, it’s not like I really do this anymore. What do I have to lose?”  

I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. That show was the most rewarding experience of my life. More than dancing on a Broadway tour; more than meeting world-famous rock bands; more than traveling the world. Performing on that tiny stage in that little Florida town and being part of that small production was like a shock to my nervous system — it was a euphoria that I forgot existed.  

That show was therapy. I channeled two years of repressed hurt, anger, confusion, and rage into that iconic role, finally able to release it out of my heart. I cried on stage every single night; the audience cried every single night. I somehow connected my own unique, heartbreaking experience to this character’s unique, heartbreaking experience, and the audience received it through the lens of their unique, heartbreaking experiences.  

Connection. Humanity.

Connecting to that thing that makes us all human. That is art.

I believe at the root of it, humans have more in common than we do differences. We all need love, crave support, and desire connection. We want to be understood, feel seen, and be heard. We thirst for shared experiences and those things that bring us together, especially in this time when our political climate is so ready to tear us apart. That is what art did for the world during the pandemic: it brought us together in a world when we felt isolated, alone, and divided.  

That one little show I did received positive buzz within the community. Suddenly, I had other directors contacting me. Before I knew it, I had shows lined up consecutively for the next year. Much to my surprise, I am back to being a full-time performer here in South Florida.

The pandemic was a wake-up call. It forced me to stop dead in my tracks. I was on a never-ending hamster wheel, tirelessly running, grinding, hustling, working myself quite literally to death. I was working so hard and for so long that I forgot my why. I forgot why I was doing it and what I was doing it for. I forgot who I was doing it for.

It made me take a moment to stop, breathe, and process everything that happened to me so that I may begin to heal. Without that moment of pause, I would have simply swallowed and ignored the pain because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. Only, it would have resurfaced and consumed me the moment I felt overwhelmed again. I’ve now come to accept that those experiences will forever be a part of me. They have undoubtedly shaped me into the man I am and will become, but they do not define me.  

It made me reprioritize my values. My Instagram feed shifted away from perfectly curated photos of fake smiles in exciting travel destinations towards candid photos of slobbery puppy kisses and laughter with family and friends. I stopped counting followers and worrying if my posts were “on brand.” Making new friends in a new town introduced me to the kinds of people I want in my inner circle and reminded me of those I don’t.

It made me reevaluate my own worth. I know what I will tolerate from an employer, colleagues, and peers. More importantly, I know what I will not. I’m much more confident in those things and in who I am than ever before.  

Admittedly, I’m still a bit of a workaholic. But I now appreciate the importance of downtime and am quicker to demand time and space for those things that matter. I’ve missed so many important moments before — weddings, funerals, family time — all for the sake of “being a team player.”  

As artists, we’re conditioned to believe that we have to sacrifice everything for our art. We’re sold this “starving artist” ideology and told we ought to be grateful for any work we’re given because there are tens of thousands of people waiting to take our place. I do not deny the importance of gratitude, but I reject the notion of the starving artist who must risk it all. Our society is constantly consuming art, so we have to start treating our artists with more respect. Acknowledge their dedication, compensate them accordingly for their time and effort, appreciate their boundaries, and grant them the same quality of life we’d want for ourselves.  

The pandemic taught me that before we are artists, we are human.

And if we can’t prioritize ourselves as humans first, then there can’t be art.

Ryan Michael James currently lives in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Before the pandemic, he was an actor, singer, and dancer in musical theater living in New York City. 

Categories
Society

Velvet LeNore: pandemic has been challenging for drag queens, but we persevered 

The pandemic has been brutal for everyone, but performers who make their living doing live shows have suffered immensely. Draftsy talked to Miss Velvet LeNore, a newly crowned Miss Florida Female Impersonation At Large, about the community coming together to support the artists during the lockdowns.

A gorgeous drag queen with 27 years of experience, Miss LeNore is well known and respected in South Florida for building recognition for the LGBTQ community and supporting other artists.

Draftsy: Miss LeNore, how did the pandemic affect your art? Was it a negative influence, did it affect your ability to be in shows and support yourself with your act?

LeNore: Fortunately, I am one of the ladies who are not afraid to save the money, so I personally was ok, but the pandemic had hurt many people in the drag community. Many performers were scared and did not think they could survive it. Thank God for our community and the fact that we were able to do shows online from our homes. We had so much support during the lockdown. 

D: Online shows? That must have been a significant change. 

L: Yes, we found a friend who was computer savvy and helped us get online and link all the performers from their houses. We got all the ladies together and started doing shows. People were very supportive and paid us through instant money transfer apps. 

D: Being in the lockdown, how did it challenge or change your art and creativity?

L: Because of the pandemic, I took a step back and thought about the fact that every artist, no matter what art they are creating, must grow and help others. I decided to take people under my wing who wanted to become performers but didn’t know where to start. Many guys want to try a career in entertainment, but there is no platform for them. So, I made my own platform and called it “The Boylesque Show.” It allows new performers to do drag, and it is going really well; the show is blowing up in South Florida!

D: What was the most important feeling in those months during the beginning of the pandemic? What kept you going?

L: What kept me going was knowing that I would be able to see my family and my kids again one day. Not being able to see everyone for a while has made me realize that we need to love each other more, tell them how we feel every day, and spend more time with family. We must make memories with people. 

I lost someone to Covid-19 recently, a friend of mine who used to do drag to raise money for kids. We did a benefit in his name, and thousands of people came out. That broke my heart – he was so healthy and strong. For him to be taken from us like that has opened my eyes to the fact that we have to be there for each other in life. You just don’t know what’s going to happen and what tomorrow holds. 

D: Do you think the art was more important than usual in the past year and a half? 

L: Oh yes, absolutely. When the bars opened back up, I felt like the community embraced us a lot more. Things are actually even better now than before the pandemic. I am working more than I have ever worked. I think the public appreciates us more because they see what we had to go through. They are giving us the love back. 

People were in their houses for so long, only able to watch television. They could not wait to go out and see live entertainment once the restrictions were lifted. Every show has been sold out. People want to get out and experience life again. Drag shows are a way for locals to have dinner with family and friends, laugh, celebrate and have a good time. The club where I work has been packed every night.  

D: In your opinion, is there an imbalance of people leaning on art in hard times, and at the same time, artists going through difficulties because society is not giving them the means to support themselves?

L: I personally think that the community has done everything to support us through this time. A lot of people were giving the performers gift cards for Publix (local grocery store – ed.). They found ways to help us raise money, kept reaching out every week to see if we needed anything at all.  Local restaurants were cooking dinners and giving them out for free to artists that could not afford to buy food. 

I feel that the community really did give back to us. They supported us more than ever before. It just shows that people care, and they understand that we had no way to make money. A lot of girls live from show to show, so it was difficult for them. Not everyone was able to save for a rainy day. We were sharing everything and helping each other out. At times like these, we must stick together.