Keeping Each Other Safe Through COVID Crisis

Ward 7 and 8 Mutual Aid Effort Provides Support to Community, from Community

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NeeNee Taylor, a core organizer with Black Lives Matter DC, and Jewel Stroman, a long-time advocate for the homeless community, pose in PPE as they prepare for deliveries.

Fariha Huriya interrupts our conversation to answer the door. Someone is dropping off supplies for the Ward 7 and 8 Mutual Aid Network (Mutual Aid). The supplies are welcome. Fariha Huriya, an organizer with the effort who is also Co-Manager at Peace House DC, has just returned from delivering food and essential items. Needy families impacted by COVID-19 and the resulting economic meltdown call Mutual Aid, in search of food, supplies and often emotional support.

Alexis McKenney of Bread for the City is photographed with food and a few Easter treats destined for families.

“When we want to talk about healing in mutual aid, it is an emphasis of our work, providing community care,” said Huriya. “It’s not just delivering groceries and essential items; it’s all really mutual aid.”

Mutual Aid
Each of the District’s six other wards had established a single Mutual Aid Network group to help neighbors in their respective ward through the public health crisis. However, organizers in Wards 7 and 8 decided to band together to serve their communities. Huriya said it makes sense to unite, since residents face many of the same problems. Many of which are not new.

“We are the most impacted for police brutality, police violence, increased police surveillance, gentrification and for Coronavirus,” she said. “Wards 7 and 8 are always feeling whatever DC is feeling the most.”

While mutual aid groups have become more visible during the ongoing COVID crisis, the concept is not new. Neighbors have long organized to serve their communities. An idea that is summed in the Ward 7 and 8 Mutual Aid slogan, ‘we keep us safe.’ While volunteers are accepted from throughout the DMV, the effort is run by leaders from the communities served, who are marginalized and impacted, said Kay.

Fariha Huriya of Peace House DC (foreground) and Naana Ewool package supplies for the Ward 7 and 8 Mutual Aid Effort. Photos Courtesy Huriya/ Wards 7 & 8 Mutual Aid

The network was established early on in the pandemic. Organizers built on already established relationships and experience. Activists from Dreaming Out Loud, Black Lives Matter DC, the Black Swan Academy, the Peace House DC, Peace Fellowship DC, Deanwood Tenants Association, BYP100 and Anthony Lorenzo Green all pitched in.

“History has shown us that the government has failed so many times, especially filling in the gaps for communities who are marginalized and who are impacted the most,” Huriya said. “You know, marginalized people are always under attack.”

How It Works
Volunteers answer a Mutual Aid Hotline. They query callers about their specific needs to ensure they get appropriate assistance. They gather prepared meals, groceries, essential supplies such as paper towels, cleaners, toilet paper and diapers as well as personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and sanitizer. Volunteers package items and arrange for no-contact delivery. As long as supplies are available, each delivery includes washable, reusable masks.

Groceries and essential items are only the beginning, Huriya said. Volunteers help people deal with care of family members. They listen to the stories of families impacted by coronavirus, many of whom have lost members. Mutual Aid matches those affected by the virus to emotional or spiritual support according to their needs. Sometimes people just need a caring ear.

It is a heavy lift, Huriya acknowledged. Volunteers are constantly challenged by the enormous need.

“We have to come together and find the right people as well resources and connect them to our community members that are suffering,” Huriya said.

For Fariha, the Ward 7 and 8 Mutual Aid efforts can be exhausting but also healing and comforting. Community members who have received aid call and send photos, many crying. It shows her that the work is making a small but critical impact.

“I hope that this gives us the opportunity to work together to build more a world that we as organizers envision,” Huriya said. “And that’s my goal: not to just let it go, but hopefully, one day when this pandemic is over, to continue being there for our community and making each other feel safe.”

Residents are encouraged to contact Ward 7 and Ward 8 Mutual Aid Network hotline at any time if they need support, whether they have coronavirus or not.

Ward 7 and 8 Mutual Aid is looking for volunteers to pack deliveries, and drivers to get items to those in need. They need donations of essential items, such as shelf-stable food, essential items like paper towels, toilet paper, bleach and diapers as well as scarce personal protective equipment like face masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. Financial donations are also welcome.

Call Ward 7 and 8 Mutual Aid if you need any kind of support: 202-630-0336

Volunteer online at https://bit.ly/3euWlon

Donate funds online at Blackswanacademy.org/donate or via Venmo @blackswanacademy

Bring essential items, shelf-stable food, masks and gloves to DC Peace House (1535 Olive St. NE).

Learn more about the District-wide Mutual Aid Network by visiting https://www.facebook.com/groups/492881801379594/