You should ditch charity for mutual aid



Organizers from Food For Life Atlanta, a mutual aid group organizing food for drop offs around Atlanta. They are currently in need of volunteers and food donations. You can fill those needs by visiting their Instagram.

April McBride, Opinion Writing Coach

What is the best way to help your community? Most of us when considering how to be generous will look to making donations to large charities such as the Red Cross or Cancer Fund of America, but where does that money go? Will you ever see the fruits of your generosity? Without discounting the work that these organizations may have done there is a better way to help others, others that live close to you and share your community. 

Charity is built upon rich people giving to an institution that decides the function of those donations. Over 40% of donations given are used to pay for the overhead cost needed to run the operation. That remaining cash is given, but usually given with strings attached. They may choose to help only mothers, only sober people, those who can hold down a job, only those who follow their ideologies. The decision on who is a deserving poor person and who a non-deserving poor person is given to independent organizations. Who is left to help those who are not fitting into deserving categories?


That is where mutual aid and community should step in. Where charity blames individuals for their poverty, mutual aid blames the system and says that everyone deserves their human needs to be met, no matter how “deserving” charity qualifies them to be. Charity is top down, mutual aid works in a circle. It is the mutual understanding that we all need each other. One week my elderly neighbor might need me to pick up her medication, the next month I might ask her husband to check over a professional email. A struggling college student might need a place to stay for this week, but in the future she will help younger community members with their college essays. 


This comes from the idea of community over large organization. That if we treat our community members as family and ensure all their needs are cared for we have built a wall of protection and opposition to the oppression of the world. Mutual aid is standing in solidarity with your fellow man and making the revolutionary statement that you care for them, you are looking out for them in times of need and you put love for the collective over your individual wealth, whether monetary or otherwise. It is liberation from the need to rely on systems that most times do not serve us. 


You do not need money or even skills to help your community. You have time to help, you have time to speak to a neighbor and if you do not have time you have love. The concept of mutual aid does not have to follow any mold. Mutual aid is about DIY, you don’t need permission to help others, to feed others. You don’t need to know all the technicalities to make change.


It also might be that you think because you live in a more affluent community that there is no use of community. The needs you fill might be more psychological or care tasks instead of food and shelter. Maybe a neighbor who just lost her daughter needs help with childcare, cooking or cleaning. An elderly person in need of new companionship. These psychological needs can fall through the cracks at any class level. 


We understand the need for community, but how can you start to create a sense of community wherever you live? The smallest step to put yourself out there is important. If you don’t know your neighbors you could write them a small note introducing yourself, and taking the step to say “If you need help, I am here to do my best”. Just that very simple act will not only make people more comfortable asking for help when they need it, but will make them more open to helping you. It opens up the conversation to community potlucks, celebrations, and meetings. The key is to make a brave first connection. 


During the Covid-19 pandemic the need for mutual aid efforts and community has risen. 18 million Americans will face eviction within the coming months. The level of homelessness in the US has risen many-fold during the crisis with over 1.5 million people currently homeless in the US. The need for a helping hand is even more present than ever. Put the horrors of the world off your shoulders and start with doable steps today.  


Learn more about steps to community building here