Giving Compass' Take:
- Mutual aid networks are paramount in climate emergencies when communities can't rely on local governments for support and safety.
- How can donors best support or strengthen mutual aid networks? How are these service models effective?
- Learn more about how mutual aid provides crisis care.
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When Winter Storm Uri hit Texas in February 2021, bringing single-digit temperatures and sheets of snow to Dallas, Susana Edith and a group of volunteers distributed lentil soup and winter gear to unhoused people in their community.
“A lot of us had a sense of urgency and were called to action at that moment,” Edith said. “We were out in the streets while the storm was happening.”
Edith is the founder of Lucha Dallas, a community-based collective that coordinated with other mutual aid groups in North Texas to bring food, warm clothing, sleeping bags, and tent warmers to their unhoused neighbors; they even raised cash donations to pay for hotel rooms for those who could not access shelters.
Like millions of Texans across the state, Edith’s own household was without power and heat. The frigid temperatures, snow, and ice caused a catastrophic failure of the state’s power grid; within days, some 12 million residents lost access to safe drinking water. The disruptions disproportionately affected low-income communities and communities of color, and the consequences were deadly. The state’s official death toll reached 246, but a Buzzfeed analysis found more than three times as many people likely died from the storm.
Edith said she and her neighbors felt abandoned by the local government.
“There’s no other means of survival for us,” Edith said. “If we’re not looking out for each other and helping each other, giving each other a hand, no one else is gonna do it.”
Across the country, people are increasingly relying on mutual aid—cooperative assistance that adherents describe as “solidarity, not charity”—to get through climate-related disasters.
The practice is nothing new. Communities of color and other marginalized groups have long relied on mutual assistance when government services fell short. But now, many frontline communities are taking up the practice as a way to become more resilient in the face of increasingly extreme weather.
Communities where neighbors check in with each other and have someone to call during a crisis are better prepared to face climate emergencies, according to a Tufts University study published in September. Researchers conducted interviews in two Boston neighborhoods that are at risk for flooding and heat waves over the course of six months; they found that the more connected people were with neighbors, church communities, and colleagues, the more likely they were to know about resources and services offered during extreme weather.
“Being socially isolated while trying to deal with an extreme weather event can be deadly, particularly for those who are more susceptible to dying from extreme weather,” said Rev. Vernon Walker, a co-author of the study and program director of Communities Responding to Extreme Weather (CREW), which co-published the report.
Read the full article about social isolation during climate emergencies by Yvonne S. Marquez at YES! Magazine.