Once a year, Iceman and, “The Fire & Ice Lounge”, set up camp amid a temporary metropolis in the middle of the Black Rock Desert. They are present, mostly, to feed the masses as they traverse the dusty streets, although drinks and music have been main staples as well.
Slowly creeping mutant vehicles share the roads with humans who are wearing random mixtures of festival garb and desert protective gear. The entire scene has a strangely post-apocalyptic aesthetic. It’s no wonder then when the pandemic hit, and civilization seemed to come to a halt, the camp organizers had little issue mobilizing their community to do what they had always done: feed people at the ends of the world.
Iceman was quick to respond as the news of the pandemic’s consequences spread across social media. A post, made to their Facebook Camp page, on March 19th offered $300 cash to any of their members that were anticipating the need to stock up on food supplies. The post stated, “We are a hearth and we love love to feed feed people..,” but the desire to help with immediate needs soon highlighted the need for an infrastructure to support that mission.
“Dennis and I together, at the end of some process, had a moment where we looked at each other (virtually), and agreed to try to network Burners in need,” Iceman answered, when asked about Burning Hearth’s origins. “We had both been involved in organizing food and distribution for our Black Rock City camps, and we realized the potential need and opportunities to bring us together for direct action in our communities.”
We spoke with Dennis about his role in helping to start Burning Hearth with Iceman. “On paper, I am the “Co-chair” and Vice President, but we all wear many hats.”
Burning Hearth has since moved from offering funds, to distributing food directly to Burners.
“Delivering food and supplies is our first priority,” Dennis added. “We are now working on networking with local farms in our Nest areas for a steady source of meat and vegetables.”
“Mid-April, during the COVID-19 pandemic, I lost my job,” Peanut Butter said about his experience with Burning Hearth. “Before my EDD kicked in, I was in need of food and to feel cared about and seen, in general. Burning Hearth came through in a big way for me on both of those fronts during a major time of need in my life. They helped, connected with me, and listened.”
Other Burners had similar hardships, like costume & fashion artist, Trouble, “When the SIP (shelter in place) went into effect, an upcoming event that I was going to be selling my own artwork at got cancelled. That affected my income significantly, and the Burning Hearth helped feed me.”
Even though Burning Hearth has its origins in feeding Burners, their mission has morphed as new needs have developed.
“I saw a post on Facebook,” Scott wrote when asked about his participation in Burning Hearth and their response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. “I said that I would immediately start printing PPE [Personal Protective Equipment]. He [Iceman] PayPaled me [the funds required] right away!” Scott has been contributing with research and development for 3D printing and laser cutting ever since.
Melody, Burning Hearth’s accountant & grant writer, expressed plans to expand their missions into other passion projects as well. “I would love it if I can help educate and expand the projects of BH. Perhaps creating a BH business school for Burners.” She further elaborated on the mutable mission of Burning Hearth: “We were created during the time of the COVID-19 Pandemic, not because of the Pandemic.”
While there is a lot of promise and energy behind our fledgling non-profit, it is not without its obstacles. “The biggest challenges that I see are keeping organized with Burners. They can be like herding cats sometimes,” Andrew Gray, from the San Diego Nest commented.
And he’s not far off. The term “Nest” is used by Burning Hearth to label the decentralized nodes that are based out of the bigger Burner cities. It can be complicated to keep them on the same page, but in fact, the specialization that comes from each city is another one of Burning Hearth’s strengths.
“Each Nest is different, and they’re based on local demographics and volunteer skill-set, so there is no single ‘standard’ Nest structure,” Troy commented. He and his partner Jeannie started as the Reno Nest co-leads, and he has since moved to the position of the Director of Nests. “The greatest opportunities that BH can have, is being able to pull together Burners with common interests and goals, and provide equipment and training to help them achieve those goals.”
The people involved in the Burning Hearth are highly flexible, and willing to help however possible. Eve Walding is the Dallas “Nest Lead” and also became involved when Iceman put out a call to his Burning Man campmates. “I love being someone that can snap into a role of providing something for the greater good,” she said.
This flexibility is the core of Burning Hearth. It started with feeding people, but our mission and the world are constantly changing. While the end of the world has happened before and will likely happen many more times during our lives, our mission isn’t to hold on to any of the old worlds, but rather to keep looking forward and creating the world where we want to live.