Community Leaders Extend a Lifeline
Story by Kerri McLean
Everybody knows that disasters – including hurricanes and floods, heat waves and fires – cause tremendous hardship. What’s less well known is that disasters generally strike people already experiencing hardship. That’s because it’s the poor and the marginalized who tend to live in areas most vulnerable to calamity. In response, community leaders belonging to Anthropocene Alliance have spearheaded the establishment of a Mutual Aid Fund to provide fast, compassionate support for communities in crisis.
To donate to the Anthropocene Alliance Mutual Aid Fund, click here.
“When disaster hits,” said Mutual Aid committee member Darshan Elena Campos, director of Somos Semillas Antillanas in Puerto Rico, “solidarity becomes a moment-to-moment practice for survival. Mutual aid groups empower residents by giving them quick access to money and basic resources such as food, water, and shelter. That support,” she added, “can deepen local relationships and maintain intergenerational connections.”
The first $8,500 for A2’s Mutual Aid Fund came from the US Climate Action Network. Additional money has come from families, individuals and organizations who understand that people in crisis can’t wait for state and federal resources to become available. Donors to the Fund can give in any amount, confident that 100% of their donations go directly to affected communities – none is used for overhead, staff time or anything else.
Because these funds are not intended to pay for long term recovery or relief, they are limited in size. Following a disaster, community leaders may apply for up to $2,000 to distribute to impacted residents for such things as short-term housing, electric generators, drinking water, cleaning supplies, food and clothing, transportation, and medical supplies. Just days after the fund was up and running, disaster struck.
People in crisis aren’t able to wait for a check or find a bank. They need help right away, and they need kindness.
On March 23, 2022, several powerful tornadoes hit the New Orleans area, sweeping homes off foundations, uprooting trees, and leaving two dead. The tornado that touched down in Arabi had peak 160 mph winds, among the strongest in New Orleans history. The governor declared a state of emergency and called the destruction ‘devastating’. Arthur Johnson, director of New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED) and Beth Butler, director of A Community Voice (ACV) quickly requested and received A2 Mutual Aid Fund relief for tornado victims.
“The response from the Mutual Aid Fund was immediate.” Johnson said. “People in crisis aren’t able to wait for a check or find a bank to cash it. They need help right away, and they need kindness.” He added: “Having gone through the traumas of Hurricanes Katrina and Ida, we understand the importance of being sensitive, really listening to our community members. There is no place for judgement, just compassion.”
Beth Butler’s group, A Community Voice, reached out to Save Our St. Bernard (SOS) in hard-hit St. Bernard Parish, pledging $100 each to 20 storm-affected families. Beth also distributed vouchers from SisterHearts Thrift Store, increasing the value of donations to $200 per recipient. Soon, other organizations pitched in still more matching funds, resulting in a generous and sustainable plan to stretch mutual aid support.
A Community Voice and Save Our St. Bernard continue to work in tandem to refer tornado victims to counseling opportunities, rebuilding resources, and other mutual aid funds.
As the hurricane and fire season approaches, it is certain that many other communities will be hit with disasters, many of them exacerbated by climate change. A Mutual Aid Fund can never be any more than a quick, partial, and highly imperfect response to a damaging and heart-breaking disaster. But from those small interventions grow feelings of safety and solidarity, and the start of long-term recovery.