A friend lives in the Bay Area. He and his family are well, and he is in a position to help others. He said times are tough there and they are preparing for them to get tougher by creating mutual aid volunteer and assistance networks. He said we should be doing the same thing here. Then he said it again. He said we should get organized.
I think of the parable about the person walking along a beach, throwing starfish into the ocean. Someone tells them they can’t make a difference, they can’t save all the starfish. The person says that they can make a difference to the one starfish they just threw in. I hate that parable. Community organizing teaches us that we can do more together, and we should look at the big picture. What if the beach walker took a moment to find more people to help? WHY are the starfish on the beach?
I believe and hope that everyone is watching out for their neighbors, providing small and large acts of kindness and assistance. Some people and organizations are already doing herculean things that are well-organized and impactful. Some are making good use of Facebook to ask questions and offer help. That is powerful and should continue 1,000%. I just want to make the case for wider coordination and communication.
Help-seeking behaviors are complicated and impacted by many of the same things that make people vulnerable to financial or medical crises. The people who need help the most may be the most likely to fall through the cracks or not know how to get it.
On the other end, I think we all know the cautionary tales that warn us that the best intentions do not always translate into effective help. No one wants to hurt efforts by donating inappropriate goods, but how do we know what is needed and when?
What can we learn from volunteer mutual aid efforts in the Bay Area or Tucson so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel? How can we make sure everyone knows best practices for no-contact drop-offs, so we don’t accidentally infect someone we are trying to help? What if 15 different people are all calling a tiny, overworked nonprofit asking the same questions about how they can help, when we could have a centralized place tracking, sharing, and matching needs and resources instead?
I think it takes one person or organization with some time, good community connections, ability to use google forms or a spreadsheet, and bilingual skills.They could create an efficient, community-wide framework.
Some mutual aid efforts give options to volunteers. So if you’re well and comfortable doing things outside the home you can indicate that, versus lots of ways to participate/organize without leaving your house.
If you need help, ask for it. If you can help someone, help them. If you can’t, find someone who can.
Editor’s note: Cassalyn David earned a Masters in Community-Oriented Public Health Practice from the University of Washington. She lives in Patagonia and has worked in public health program management for eight years.