Two and a half months ago, Down Home launched our Mutual Aid Fund.
The decision to do so only took our team about five minutes: The need in our communities was so clear and so immediate.
As the threat of COVID19 descended on North Carolina, as businesses shut down, as employers called employees and told them not to come in, poor and working people across the state were thrown into turmoil.
The reality for poor and working families in North Carolina– and across the country– is that they have no cushion, no buffering. Nearly half of Americans can’t afford a $400 unexpected bill, according to a 2018 study done by the Federal Reserve, therefore securing a month of food or hoarding hand sanitizer is something we could never do. Down Home lives and works in this reality and we knew that we were going to have to work together to weather this storm.
The Mutual Aid Fund was the answer. At Down Home, we see mutual aid as very different from charity. The money in the fund was predominantly raised by Down Home members to help each other out. Soon, however, the fund grew so that we were able to offer the money raised to others in our community. There is an understanding that we all have times in our life that we can give, and all have times that we need help. Mutual aid promotes solidarity, not charity.
COVID-19 has demonstrated how deeply interconnect we each are. Working in a mutual aid framework, Down Home is able move away from existing top-down power structures and allow members to take responsibility for one another and for changing political conditions.
So far, Down Home has been able to assist nearly 200 individuals and families through the fund. Overwhelmingly, applicants to the fund say that they are having trouble meeting their basic needs. Most cite the need to purchase groceries or pay bills that are coming due. Examples of commonly mentioned needs are as follows:
“As a senior with some disabilities & compromised immune system, I’m told to stay at home & not visit stores. I do have someone who I text a list to, shops for me every 2 weeks leaving groceries on the porch & I leave payment so [I feel] fortunate; but it’s difficult to afford food & supplies especially during this time.” – a senior living in Jackson County, NC
“Without my income it’s getting harder for my mom to keep up with groceries.” – A recently unemployed worker in Alamance County, NC
“I was forced to leave my job due to being severely immunocompromised.” – A recently unemployed worker in Madison County, NC
“I [need help] because my work was reduced to less than six hours a week.” – A worker in Jackson County, NC
Down Home has been built by poor and working-class North Carolinians.
This makes us strong, but it also means that many of our members are vulnerable in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of our members work at jobs that offer few protections, such as paid time off, sick or family leave time. Many of our members are uninsured or underinsured, unable to always afford their prescriptions or go to the doctor. Many other members of Down Home are older adults or people with disabilities living on fixed incomes. We are strong people, but we have been made vulnerable by an unfair system that values profits over people.
Together, we can change that. Down Home is working to build power for poor and working people and we know that 2020 is our year. To help us make the change we need, get involved here.