May 1, 2020 9:18 am

This Mural Arts employee turned her expiring health savings account into a way to help during COVID-19

Amy Johnston says that taking an action like this can not only help replenish supplies at a service-providing nonprofit, but help you feel empowered during a time of crisis.

Clayton Ruley (left) director of community engagement and volunteer services for Prevention Point, receives donation of first aid and personal care supplies from Amy Johnston (right) of Mural Arts Philadelphia.

(Courtesy photo by Kate Jacobi)

When it comes to some employee benefits, the age-old adage is true: Use it or lose it.

That realization hit home in a new way for Amy Johnston, the coordinator of the Mural Arts Institute, when she received her health savings account statement in early April — the concluding month of her plan year — and she learned that she had over-budgeted.

Amy Johnston. (Courtesy)

Shortly before Johnston received the statement, the Mural Arts team had met to brainstorm about  ways they might be helpful to their fellow Philadelphians in the midst of COVID-19 crisis. That conversation and the statement together prompted Johnston’s decision to roll over what she could from her HSA and use the overage to purchase supplies for organizations in need.

Just like that, her plan was afoot.

One of her first calls was to her Mural Arts colleague, Kate Jacobi, a project manager who was already facilitating the organization’s crisis response with local nonprofits like Prevention Point and Broad Street Ministry.

“I don’t have one of those accounts, so I didn’t even know that kind of thing was an option or existed,” Jacobi said, “and immediately thought it was a great idea because some of the items that are available [on the online store] are also items that are out at a lot of stores, or out of stock on some websites.”

Johnston found from browsing her HSA online store that much of the personal protective equipment in demand now was also out of stock there. But at Jacobi’s urging, Johnston settled on purchasing other useful products like first aid kits, saline wipes and lip balm.

On April 22, Johnston and Jacobi headed to Kensington to drop off the supplies at Prevention Point, the nonprofit that runs a drop-in center, syringe service program, and medical clinic.

Johnston thought about all the things in Philadelphia that couldn’t be done because of stay-at-home orders and how easy it was to feel stuck or powerless. She knew she didn’t want to feel that way for long, and she wants others to know that they don’t have to feel that way either.

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“It doesn’t even have to be this [action] necessarily,” she said, “this was just one opportunity that I had access to, and agency over, to be able to act on myself. But I think everybody can think of something that they can do to be helpful and to make a positive contribution.”

As an organization Mural Arts has responded to COVID-19 by collaborating with its partners to install educational murals next to hand-washing stations for people experiencing homelessness; placing decorative vinyl floor decals in public spaces encouraging people to social distance; and hosting art tutorials online targeted to kids and their parents who are stuck inside — but Jacobi says she was delighted when Johnston approached her with the HSA donation idea.

“I just thought it was awesome that she brought this idea to me and now we can encourage others to do it,” Jacobi said. “I think a lot of other people will feel good about being able to contribute to something that was maybe right in front of them the whole time and they never put two and two together.”

Johnston doesn’t know anyone close to her affected by COVID-19, and she doesn’t know exactly how the supplies she donated might be used, but she said neither of those things matter.

“It was important for me to make this gesture, and I hope with all my heart that it’s helpful,” she said. “If by my actions, and by sharing my actions, I can inspire somebody else to also make that kind of gesture, then I’d be glad.”


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