Katrina Ervin pivoted toward creating her own way forward
Ice Cream Social started after Ervin lost her job as a result of COVID-19
If you had told me a year ago that in a matter of months I would lose my job, be told to shelter in place indefinitely due to a pandemic, watch a social justice movement take shape, start a new business making ice cream and consequently end up on national TV, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s an incomprehensibly strange turn of events that one could never truly be prepared for.
The last year hasn’t been easy on anyone. I know I’m also not the only one who saw the silver lining in being forced to start anew. I’m one of more than 20 million Americans who lost their job at the start of the pandemic and whose life was upended as a result of COVID-19. I’m 32 years old and had worked as a corporate graphic designer and photographer for eight years before I was laid off. I was devastated. I went through the seven stages of grief and hovered at anger a little longer than I’d care to admit. At one point I screamed at the top of my lungs as if that would help ease the uncertainty I was now facing.
Then I woke up, took a deep breath and realized this was a clean slate. How often do you get a chance like that? To be forced out of your comfort zone into a fresh start? To completely start over without worrying about the consequences of leaving a career behind? Something good had to come from this. Any other outcome just wasn’t an option for me. I threw myself into my hobbies with an overwhelming intensity, determined to forget about my “unemployed” status and my anxiety surrounding COVID-19. I read books, I exercised, I took classes on Skillshare. I promised myself I wouldn’t let this time go to waste. Most importantly, I made ice cream — a lot of ice cream.
Ice Cream Social was born in the time of social distancing and started as a way to provide comfort and stay connected with friends and family during Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order. I designed a logo, ordered recyclable containers and printed stickers because I can’t even do a hobby halfway. I had no intention of turning my hobby into a business.
A couple of months later my focus shifted. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and every person of color who had their life taken too soon was at the forefront of my mind. The protests started and I lost sleep trying to come up with ways I could use my skills to be a better ally. I didn’t want to fall into the repetitive trap of passive social media activism — I wanted to actually do something. The next morning I proclaimed to my boyfriend, “I’m going to sell my ice cream on Instagram and donate the proceeds to nonprofits fighting for social change.” I wasn’t sure if this ice cream bake sale would work, but I wanted to give it a try. I wanted to help get money into the pockets of organizations that needed it. I came up with the tagline “Small Batches for Big Change” and got to work. The next day I launched Ice Cream Social and within 24 hours had my first sale. From that point forward, the “Social” in the name took on a new meaning — giving a nod to its format on social media and to the recipients of its proceeds.
The format of Ice Cream Social is unconventional, but it’s well suited for life in the time of social distancing. Everything is sold through Instagram stories to followers commenting “dibs” to claim a flavor. With so many people staying home and living online these days, the platform is easily accessible for anyone on social media.
Since Ice Cream Social launched last June, the project has taken on a life of its own. The Instagram has rapidly grown and even gained national attention after I was approached by “The Kelly Clarkson Show.” The success of Ice Cream Social is due to many reasons, but the most important being that people care about the causes I’m donating to and where their money is going. We all just want to put a little kindness back out into the world, and it’s nice to know that doing something as simple as buying ice cream is making a difference. From the beginning, even when I was just sharing ice cream with my friends and family, the whole idea stemmed from connection and community. I wanted to provide comfort during such a dark and uncertain time. Since then, it’s grown into something so much bigger, but the core idea is still there: Food builds community.
Katrina Ervin is a photographer, graphic designer and founder of Ice Cream Social, which is now operating out of FEED Kitchens. @icecreamsocial_wi
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