Coronavirus In Ohio: Mutual Aid Network Emerges To Help Neighbors In Need

Apr 2, 2020

Inside her apartment in North Linden, Nancy Vesey sits in a chair while her four kids play upstairs. All are under the age of 10. Although no one in her family has been hit by the coronavirus yet, Vesey worries about the impact it will have on her situation.

“It’s been OK so far. But with the kids being home, there’s a lot more food disappearing,” Vesey says. “A lot more attitudes running around.”

A couple of weeks ago, Vesey was laid off from a catering company that works with The Ohio State University. 

“Right now I’m just basically trying to make sure bills stay afloat,” Vesey says. “Of course, they say nothing’s gonna get shut off, but what about when this is over with?

With thousands of people laid off across the state, and kids staying home from school, a new network of neighbors called Mutual Aid Central Ohio has sprung up to help meet people’s needs.

Vesey stumbled across the group while scrolling through Facebook. She filled out a form requesting help with groceries, and someone came through to help solve her disappearing food situation, with goods like bread, yogurt and applesauce.

“I guess it makes me feel hopeful that there are some decent people out there,” Vesey says.

Neighbors Helping Neighbors

Kenza Kamal helped launch the non-profit Mutual Aid Central Ohio in mid-March, as the coronavirus pandemic was ramping up in Ohio.

“Mutual aid is just when people get together to meet each other’s basic survival needs with a shared understanding that we don’t have to wait for someone else, someone we think is more powerful than us, to do it for us,” Kamal says.

Kamal says the support flows all ways. Someone who can drop off groceries might be in need of medicine. Someone else who can provide child care could need help with their laundry.

The group has 10 organizers who sift through Google Forms and match people in need with people nearby who can give.

“But there is something that we can do,” Kamal says. “And what we need right now is for people to activate where they are, with the people around them, and with what they have.”

So far, the Facebook group averages 400 posts a day and boasts more than 11,000 members.

Amanda Goodman is one of them. She heard about Mutual Aid through another organization she volunteers with.

Goodman figured she lives down the street from a Kroger, and it wouldn’t be too much hassle to pick up groceries for a man who requested them – even if she’s never met him before.

“I called the family to see if he had any specific requests,” Goodman says. “And he said, ‘No, just,’ and was very grateful and said, ‘Whatever kind of soups and pastas would be great.’”

She did just that, picking up boxes of pasta, some sauce and freezer foods.

“No one wants to eat the exact same thing every day, so I got different varieties of everything,” Goodman says while in the self-checkout line.

Goodman packed the groceries in her trunk and drove them to the recipient’s house, which turned out to be close by.

“He’s not someone that I’ve seen jogging before in the neighborhood or whatnot, but it’s nice to meet a neighbor and a friendly face,” Goodman says. “Now he has my contact information so if he ever needs anything, just as a neighbor.”  

According to Kamal, at least 60 residents have gotten their needs met since the group cropped up. She says the need for this kind of group will outlive the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The crisis is revealing many of the reasons people were struggling before it ever hit,” Kamal says. “Which means Mutual Aid was necessary before the pandemic, and it will continue to be necessary after.”

Kamal says any day is a good day for people to treat their neighbors like neighbors – crisis or not.