NEOCH Launches Mutual Aid Fund to Support Rapid Responses to COVID-19 Crisis

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) launched a Mutual Aid Fund to provide support for grassroots, community-based responses to the COVID-19 crisis. NEOCH was inspired by Cleveland Pandemic Response (CPR), a group of local organizers and volunteers who launched a  community hub, to directly match people in need with neighbors offering support. Knowing that large systems can be slow to respond, CPR uses a mutual aid model to link community members to free goods and services, and to volunteers who can run errands for people at high risk of infection.

NEOCH began receiving offers of financial support soon after the pandemic struck from community members who trusted them to direct those funds where they would have the biggest impact. “When disaster strikes, data shows that the most marginalized people in our society get left behind by large-scale solutions, particularly poor people of color,” says Maggie Rice, who has been coordinating NEOCH’s mutual aid education and outreach. “In response, NEOCH allocated some of the funds we’ve raised to provide rapid response assistance to those disproportionately impacted.” 

NEOCH launched its Mutual Aid Fund on March 23rd, soon after Gov. DeWine issued the state’s stay-at-home order. Organizers answer a few questions, NEOCH responds within 48 hours, and up to $500 in funding is dispersed to people organizing projects. To date, NEOCH has supported 12 projects totalling $4,300 in support.  Funds have been used to provide food, hygiene, and cleaning products to at-risk neighborhoods, materials to make masks for essential workers, and transportation fare for people being released from prison.

Suncere Ali Shakur is no stranger to mutual aid work before the COVID-19 pandemic began. A seasoned activist, Shakur did mutual aid disaster response after Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. He has also been continuing that effort in his CMHA housing community.  

“I had already been feeding people in my community,” says Shakur. “I got continued support from Food Not Bombs and others, and just had to add on my Katrina experience to build a supply line to a underserved community.” Shakur, who calls himself a “hope dealer,” used his micro-grant funds to provide toilet paper, hygiene supplies, cleaning products, and food to his neighbors.

Gabi Mirelez is a local business owner who has used her funds to make masks for NEOCH, Planned Parenthood, and other essential service providers. Through Sweetlime Queer Tailoring in Tremont, Mirelez has been providing individualized services to the community for several years. She sees mutual aid as a way to meet unique needs, without forcing people to conform to institutional standards that may not be a good fit (pun intended) for them. She says that one-on-one approach is what makes mutual aid so successful.

“I’m really grateful to grassroots organizations like NEOCH and CPR that do the work to link people like me up with individuals who can put my masks to immediate use,” Mirelez says. “With the stress of everything that’s going on, I don’t have the capacity to go find the resources I need to move quickly. It was awesome that NEOCH reached out to me and invited me to apply, instead of the other way around.”

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