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The Holidays Are All About Mutual Aid

Here's how to find the best organization to help your community.

mutual aid
Tim Dennell/Flickr

Basically every religion’s founding myth includes some parable about charity. The concept is ingrained in most of us at an early age, especially around whichever arbitrary holiday you celebrate in the winter. Winter is hard, it is cold, food does not grow. This is the time that those of us who have share with those of us who have not.

There are a lot of ways to help — it’s not my intent to say that one form of giving is morally superior to any other. But throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen the importance and direct results of organizations that operate outside the traditional corporate structure of major charities. Instead of emphasizing marketing campaigns and a global scale, mutual aid organizations focus on getting food, medicine, money and other essentials directly to people who need them. With that in mind, here’s a quick guide to finding out the best way for your dollars to make the most impact.

Find a mutual aid group near you

Finding your local mutual aid group is usually pretty simple, with a Google search of “mutual aid groups [your city/area/county].” You don’t need me to teach you how to Google. But if you’re looking for a bit more detail, there’s an interactive map of groups on Mutual Aid Hub.

In big cities with a lot of offerings, it might be best to find a neighborhood-specific group. Mutual Aid NYC is a good directory for finding those in New York City, for example.

Different groups will offer different things, of course, so spend a moment thinking about how you want your donations to be applied: most groups offer some kind of free food assistance or grocery delivery but others are specialized in housing, medical care, clothing, or direct financial aid.

National organizations

Bernie Sanders, unsurprisingly, has a pretty good guide to mutual aid tailored towards COVID-19 relief on his website. It includes some larger national organizations, which may not be doing direct aid on the same level as your neighborhood group, but are still worthy places to donate if you don’t have a community fridge on your corner. These are often geared toward specific groups, like freelancers, essential workers, or tipped workers, if one of those causes is particularly close to your heart. From Sanders’ website:

Some of our favorites

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund, which we raised funds for in our giving drive last month.

Support Mutual Aid also has a great, detailed list of on-the-ground organizations, with direct links to donate. I’ll personally be giving to Bed Stuy Strong, which is my local at home in NYC, and to the Central Valley Mutual Aid relief fund, which serves a broad swath of Central California where I grew up.

When in doubt, start your own

The beauty of mutual aid as a concept is that it is direct and immediate. If you don’t have a mutual aid group near you, you can still help. If you live anywhere with people experiencing homelessness, $100 can go a long way at a big box store. There are plenty of guides on what to put in a care package online, but think about the needs of your city and area and what could help — clean socks, some packaged or wrapped food, water, sanitary or hygiene products. You don’t need me to give you all the platitudes about a little bit going a long way, or guilt anyone into making a donation. It’s your life, the people around you are your neighbors. Helping them is often a lot easier than you think.