In Philadelphia, Mutual Aid Takes the Form of Community Food Action

Mutual aid is an organizational theory centered around the exchange of resources and services which benefit all parties involved. With its roots in anarcho-communism, and popularized by an essay by anarchist philosopher Peter Kropotkin (Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution), mutual aid really means people in communities helping each other. It is, by nature, a political idea, grounded in the idea that when governments fail communities, especially those that are systematically marginalized and oppressed, those communities take care of each other.

During COVID-19, there’s been an inspired wave of mutual aid in Philadelphia, with chefs, food activists and neighborhood organizers providing food and resources, week after week, fueled by donations and volunteers. These models exemplify the resilience of communities that find ways to provide for one another.

The West Philly Bunny Hop

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We have been stunned by the amount of #peoplepower we’ve been seeing this week at Bunny Hop! The Bunnies have been busy collecting essentials for our community as our freedom fighters continue to fight for justice ✊ If you or anyone in your community is in need, please reach out with your: Name, Address, Household Size, if you need menstrual or childcare products, and phone number. We are working on developing on a better system for deliveries and volunteer coordinating. For those who want to continue to drop donations at Malcolm X Park please check our stories for donation information and keep our DMs clear. Currently we need: Cleaning supplies, Sprays, Hand sanitizer, Rubbing alcohol, Bleach, Dish soap, Laundry detergent etc. Dry goods such as pasta, rice, Beans and Canned goods and medical supplies. We also need folks to collect donations for their community and block. Take donations to your community and check in with your neighbors and see what they need. Thank you for standing in solidarity with us as we continue to keep Philadelphia FED. @foodeveryonedeserves @eclkdomestic #blacklivesmatter #abolishthepolice #bunnyhopphl

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Bunny Hop is organized by Jena Harris and Katie Briggs, both chefs and long-time activists. “We are continually inspired by folx in Philadelphia who have been doing food access work for a long time,” they say. “Food Not Bombs, Broad Street Ministry and Ianye’s in Touch are a few that stand out. Historically speaking, the work of the Black Panther Party’s Free Breakfast Program is at the root of our praxis.”

Every week since April 4, they’ve been setting up tables in Malcolm X Park and Cedar Park in West Philadelphia on Saturday afternoons for contactless pick-ups of free prepared food, produce and groceries, as well as household items. Deliveries have also been arranged, and other pick-up sites, like Franny Lou’s Porch in North Philly, and Rowhouse Grocery in South Philly, have sometimes been involved.

By connecting with food distributors, farmers and neighbors, Bunny Hop has been able to receive donations of fresh produce, dry goods and household essentials to support their weekly Free Food for the People gatherings. One challenge they name is “being able to reach people in all of the different pockets of the city,” but they note that there has been overwhelming support, “in the form of people offering up their time and energy to volunteer and that has been very affirming as well.”

But, with more volunteers comes a greater focus on “creating an intake process that allows us to make sure our volunteers are able to understand that we are in service to these families and individuals. It’s very important that volunteers are checking their privilege before they enter into that space.”

Bunny Hop will continue for as long as the organizers are able to sustain the work. As far as this type of work spreading into other corners of the city goes, Harris and Briggs note, “Ultimately, we want folx to take this work out onto their neighborhood blocks and know that they have our support to extend the effort beyond our reach.”

With their DMs brimming with interest, it’s best to fill out this form (to give resources or request help) and/or drop donations off at BunnyHop’s warehouse according to the instructions shared through their Instagram.

Cooking for the Culture & Everybody Eats Philadelphia

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Cooking for the Culture was founded as a collaborative dinner series that put a spotlight on emerging African-American chefs from across the US. According to its website, the dinner series was meant to “explore ways to enhance opportunities for African-American chefs and bring people together to talk about creating more equal opportunity in the food industry. Not only does the series celebrate Black chefs, but also the next generation of future African American chefs as well.” Now, it’s taken on a new project called Everybody Eats, a community food and personal essentials drive.

This project began during the uprisings to protest the murder of George Floyd and countless other black Americans at the hands of the police. As there was some property damage and looting in West Philadelphia, many grocery stores and drug stores were closed for repairs after these incidents, creating a food desert in an already fraught time. Chef Stephanie Willis (a contestant on the ninth seasons of Fox’s Master Chef) and a group of other chefs, including Elijah Milligan, Kurt Evans, Aziza Young, Gregory Headen, and Malik Ali, wanted to help the community, the protesters and neighbors without access to food. Everybody Eats was a response to this, with a neighborhood-focused food giveaway at 52nd and Girard (with DJs!). Hundreds of bags of food and personal supplies have been distributed so far, and more Everybody Eats are in the works in the weeks coming up; check the website for more details, including info on how to volunteer and donation drop-off locations.

The Block Gives Back

The Block Gives Back is a community group based in Northeast Philly that is led by a group of friends who met in high school, the self-proclaimed “Degenerate Do-Gooders.” Their mission is to “revitalize Philadelphians, and eventually, other cities across the country, that have been neglected by the budget makers and politicians of the nation through our humanitarian and volunteer work.”

One of its outreach initiatives pre-COVID-19 was a monthly event called Feed the Block, where a board member from The Block Gives Back and volunteers prepared a fresh meal for 100 homeless Philadelphians. During the pandemic, they increased the frequency of Feed the Block to every Saturday afternoon from 3 to 5 p.m. at The Block Shop at 6831 Torresdale Ave. With donations from individuals and businesses, volunteers assemble upwards of 100 warm meals, given to anyone in need, no questions asked. Check out The Block Gives Back’s Instagram account for more info on these and other events, like a summer-long school supply drive!

Who in your community is practicing mutual aid? Let us know in the comments here or on PA Eats’ Facebook page!

  • Feature photo: BigStock

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