During an unprecedented year, communities pull together to help their neighbors.
Since its emergence, COVID-19 has altered life in ways few could have imagined. We miss spending time with our loved ones, attending social gatherings, and not having to wait in line to enter the grocery store. However, for some, the pandemic has held far greater consequences.
The loss of jobs, in-person schooling, and renewed stay-at-home orders have stretched families already struggling even thinner. Yet, in these dark times, there is a light. Across Oregon and the country, people are pooling their resources through mutual aid to ensure the safety of their neighbors.
The terms ‘mutual aid’ and ‘mutual aid networks’ have frequently popped up online throughout 2020. You may have seen a few circulating in your social media feed or even donated to one. But what exactly is a mutual aid network?
Breaking away from traditional one-way charity donations and embracing the phrase “solidarity, not charity,” mutual aid networks are community-built and community-led support networks that aim to provide local resources, information and support to community members for mutual benefit. Within these networks, folks can request aid or offer support. Whether it is receiving direct supplies such as food or clothing, catching a ride to the doctor, having someone to watch your kids, or even finding temporary housing – mutual aid networks help to fill the gaps that other services may miss by building bonds between neighbors and empowering communities. According to activist and law professor Dean Spade, J.D. “At its best, mutual aid actually produces new ways of living where people get to create systems of care and generosity that address harm and foster well-being.”
Though the pandemic will eventually end; food insecurity, the housing crisis, and poverty will unfortunately persist. However, innovative, community-led efforts such as mutual aid networks may provide a solution. This is because grassroots projects are more likely to incorporate a broader scope of voices and tailor services to the unique needs and values of their community. Often, mutual aid networks will prioritize individuals from backgrounds that have historically been forgotten or oppressed, such as those who are Black, Indigenous, persons of color (BIPOC), queer or trans, immigrants, refugees, older adults, and unhoused or displaced. In the time of COVID, this means supporting individuals and communities most at risk for life-altering consequences from the fallout of the pandemic.
From Portland to Ontario and Astoria to Medford, mutual aid networks have grown in every corner of Oregon. In response to COVID-19, the Eastern Oregon Mutual Aid Network connected the Oregon Food Bank with Advantage Dental to provide 5,000 oral hygiene kits to local food pantries. When fires encompassed much of the state, mutual aid networks in Southern Oregon sought to help individuals and families evacuated from their homes by providing food, clothing and clean drinking water.
There’s no denying that 2020 was a whirlwind of a year. Nevertheless, one thing remains clear: we are stronger when we work together. As we move into 2021, the innovative approaches of mutual aid networks may be just one way that neighbors can pool their efforts to fill the gaps and ensure the health of their community. For now, and for the future.
Adams, J. & Chancey, M. (December 11, 2020). Personal communication.
Burley, S. (September 25, 2020). ‘A huge difference’: Volunteers mobilise in Oregon fire aftermath. Al Jazeera. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/9/25/a-huge-difference-activists-mobilise-in-oregon-fire-aftermath
Goodman, A. (2020). Solidarity not charity: Mutual aid & how to organize in the age of coronavirus. Democracy Now. Retrieved from https://www.democracynow.org/2020/3/20/coronavirus_community_response_mutual_aid
Spade. D. (2020). Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next). Verso: Brooklyn, NY.
Learn about mutual aid networks in your area.
Is there anyone you know that may benefit from one? Let them know about what resources they may be able to receive.
If you have the means, donate supplies or volunteer time to a mutual aid network in your community.
Develop a mutual aid network
Can’t find a mutual network in your area? Develop your own! Look online for guides on how to start a mutual aid network or reach out to an existing one in the state. Establishing a mutual aid network can ensure that those most vulnerable in your community are provided the food and goods they need.