One woman is spending her free time this summer planting seeds – but in her community, not in a garden.

Monique Johnson-Crowder is an education assistant at Verona Area School District’s Core Knowledge Charter School who lives in the Allied/Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood on Fitchburg’s northwest side.

Originally she planned to work over the summer at a pharmacy, but keeping the health and safety of her nine kids in mind, she decided to take the summer off.

Johnson-Crowder has a volunteer’s spirit, picking up trash three times a week in the neighborhood. She also delivers meals to her community through the Feed it Forward initiative once a week and provides free cab rides a couple of times a month when financially able

One day she was just walking down the street – Johnson-Crowder said she likes to walk an hour around her neighborhood every day – when she noticed in the window of one house a big blanket being used as a curtain.

That got her thinking about people in need at the moment, in the wake of unprecedented unemployment across the country resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s when she decided to host an event called “Bloom Where You’re Planted: Prune Away All That Stops You From Blooming.”

The event, held on Saturday, July 18, at Belmar Hills Park, was a way to provide community members with free household items and a hot meal, while bringing people together.

“The event was to teach you to bloom wherever you are, to show people you can bloom through any circumstances,” Johnson-Crowder said.

Johnson-Crowder gathered donated household items, such as bath sets and toiletries. The donations mostly came from community members in Verona, Fitchburg and Madison. Hy-Vee also donated items.

Rhea Schultz of Westminster Church’s mission committee and the Presbyterian Women of Westminster helped organize some donated items on behalf of the church.

“You name it, we had it,” Johnson-Crowder.

Johnson-Crowder said despite rain delaying the event by an hour, around 10 people were waiting for free goods and food when it started and by the end about 50 to 60 people stopped by for assistance.

She cooked two big pans of spaghetti, in addition to brats and hot dogs to feed attendees.

Johnson-Crowder designed a flyer for the event, which she handed out to whomever she saw on her walks. She and her children went around putting them inside the mailboxes of neighbors, as well.

“These are our streets, neighborhoods and communities. Let’s show our communities some love and help each other bloom,” the flyer read.

There were seven bags of adult diapers left over from the event, which she donated to a senior living facility.

As Madison Metropolitan schools will start virtually this coming semester, and VASD administrators have proposed distance learning, Johnson-Crowder wants to next do something to help parents mentally prepare.

She says she knows it will be stressful going back to school this year. She plans to gather anyone with experience to talk to parents, and foster community dialogue about how to support families and children navigating virtual schooling.

The event will be called “We Are Parents,” but further details are still being worked out.

Johnson-Crowder said she doesn’t know what she’ll be giving out to the community at the event quite yet, and said she will have to meditate on it.

“My goal is to spread love any way possible and to bring communities together,” she said. “I’m not working right now, so anywhere I can help you bloom, I want to help.”

Neal Patten, community relporter, can be contacted at neal.patten@wcinet.com.