By Ariele Vaccaro
For Chicago photographer Lloyd “Flow” Johnson, art is more than expression. It’s a way to bring communities together in a supportive, impactful way and turn strangers into friends.
On Oct. 25, Johnson will be doing just that during Hashtag Lunchbag — an event meant to raise awareness for homelessness and strike up public interest in helping homeless individuals.
Other Hashtag Lunchbag days have taken place all over the country, but Johnson’s will be the first in Milwaukee.
Johnson feels many Milwaukee residents are interested in helping their city’s homeless but find taking individual action intimidating.
He hopes the event will show them that helping is not only possible, but, in some cases, easy.
“Everyone wants to help, but nobody knows how to go about it,” he said.
Johnson will host the day of art, empathy, and social awareness by inviting Milwaukee community members to bring food and a pair of socks to Ayzha Fine Arts in Grand Avenue Mall.
There, volunteers will pack lunch bags with snacks and sandwiches for omnivores and vegetarians alike.
“Basically, we’re going to make a really great lunch.”
In the bags, volunteers will also include a pair of socks.
Johnson said the underrated clothing accessory is in high demand among homeless communities, but is too often unavailable.
And where does art come in? With a note that the volunteers will attach to the bags, Johnson plans to have participants write an inspiring note or draw a positive picture.
Then, the volunteers will head into the community to pass out the gifts.
Finally, everyone is welcomed back to enjoy Johnson’s art exhibit: a collection of up to 65 pieces of photographic art depicting homeless individuals he’s met during his career.
Over the course of the lunch and art show, Johnson wants to send a strong message to the city’s homeless: “People do care.”
Johnson, a Milwaukee native, got involved with the homeless community during 2010. Gun violence and homelessness had become undeniable problems in Chicago.
And for Johnson, homelessness was especially visible. He met homeless individuals often and made pointed efforts to make them feel welcome in the community. One way he did that was by inviting them to check out his work during his first art show and asking that others bring five canned food items to donate.
Since then, Johnson has been working to foster understanding and compassion for the homeless in the cities he visits. Homeless individuals are welcome to enjoy free art, food, and drinks at his shows. Often, he said, he notices them talking to other art enthusiasts about a striking piece.
“Everyone wants to do something creative,” Johnson said.
Now, years after his first open-to-all art show, Johnson is continuing his work to raise awareness for the homeless all over the country.
As Hashtag Lunchbag approaches, he looks forward to using his lens to capture positive moments between volunteers and their lunch guests — Milwaukee’s homeless — and using art to keep “reminding people that we’re really all human.”
Johnson’s Hashtag Lunchbag event begins at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 25. Participants should meet at Ayzha Fine Arts in Grand Avenue Mall, 275 W. Wisconsin Ave.
Please bring a pair of socks or a food item listed on the RSVP webpage, which can be found at www.mymorningafter.co/hashtaglunchbag.