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Mutual Aid-Then and Now

A collective supportive response to health disasters or other struggles is not new to our neighborhoods. “Mutual aid” as it’s often called and mutual aid societies have been a hallmark of the communities we work in for over a century, mostly responding to the needs of recently-arrived immigrant communities. Today we take a look at some examples of mutual aid work in our neighborhoods — past and present.

From The Italians of the South Village commissioned for Village Preservation:

Immigrants recreated mutual benefit societies in the United States. These societies in turn continued the tradition of sponsoring the feasts of their local patron saints, although Columbus Day celebrations eventually largely replaced such festivities. Mutual aid societies also played an important role in helping Italians purchase life insurance and other necessities. 

The Spanish Benevolent Society La Nacional, founded in 1868, still exists today at 239 West Fourteenth Street. From their history:

Since our founding in 1868, the primary objective of the La Nacional is to “promote, encourage and spread the spirit of fraternity and solidarity among Spanish and Hispanic-American residents of this country.” In those early years, we provided Spaniards with food, shelter, healthcare and afterlife services, while functioning as a home away from home. While the needs of our members have changed greatly since that time, the Spanish Benevolent Society still remains committed to assisting those who come from Spain to navigate the urban landscape of New York City.

From A History of the Jews in America by Howard M. Sachar

Many of the shuls on the Lower East Side had developed around landslayt, groups of Jews from the same Eastern European towns, and these shuls often operated as mutual-aid societies. Most often, landslayt groups went on to form officially registered landsmanshaftn [groups of Jews from the same town]. Some were independent; most were connected to synagogues, unions, extended family circles, or fraternal orders.

Mutual Aid Today

COVID-19’s geographic pervasiveness means that new mutual aid groups are coalescing in many neighborhoods across the city to address the new needs the pandemic has created.  This could take the form of performing shopping for an elder or making a run to the pharmacy or food shopping for someone who can’t or shouldn’t.  Mutual Aid NYC, a newly formed network launched to support and connect the various groups, has created a map with links to over 70 mutual aid groups from which you can seek support or join.


Mutual Aid NYC

We are a network of groups organizing to provide aid and support to New Yorkers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

West Village

Sylvia Rivera Food Pantry

The work of MCCNY Charities, Inc. is inspired by the life and advocacy of Stonewall Veteran Sylvia Rae Rivera, fierce defender of the rights of transgender and marginalized people. Sylvia served as the food pantry director in the 1990s and called for the opening of Sylvia’s Place upon her death in 2002. Through providing social services for the homeless and the hungry, including people living with HIV/AIDS, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) youth, and building a sense of community, MCCNY Charities, Inc. seeks to continue Sylvia’s vision of radical inclusion to anyone in need. MCCNY Charities, Inc. encompasses the social service ministries of Metropolitan Community Church of New York (MCCNY). We are currently in need of volunteers to make grocery deliveries to clients who are unable to leave their homes! Please contact Sergio Mota at sergio.mcc.ny@gmail.com  (212) 629-7440

Community Care NYC

Call our hotline number (661.381.1206) to reach volunteers. Volunteers can run errands, assist with tasks at home, and otherwise be of assistance to those at-risk and sheltering in place. Many of our volunteers are based throughout Brooklyn & Manhattan, but we have the ability to connect people with local volunteers in other boroughs (Queens, & the Bronx). Volunteers will only assist when they will follow best health practices and do not show symptoms.661.381.1206

East Village

East Village Neighbors

We are a group of volunteers in the East Village area, helping our neighbors during the coronavirus crisis. Find out how you can help your neighbors – or get help! – through this page. We are here to help. EastVillageNeighbors@gmail.com

Food Not Bombs

Independently organized distribution of vegetarian meals, made of soon to expire food from local grocery stores, bakeries, food co-ops, farmer’s markets, etc.

Bowery Mission

The Bowery Mission serves homeless and hungry New Yorkers and provides services that meet their immediate needs and transforms their lives from poverty and hopelessness to hope.

Lower East Side Mutual Aid

The LES Mutual Aid Group is a group of residents who live in the Lower East Side. We help our community by: – Reaching out to neighbors to check-in on them and hear what they are experiencing. – Collecting and sharing resources useful to our neighbors. – Offering volunteer assistance to neighbors where we can, and to do that safely.les-mutual-aid@googlegroups.com (862) 414-4259

Vision Urbana Inc.

The VU Food Pantry was established in April of 2018 in partnership with the Foodbank for NYC, Unitedway of NYC, Driscoll Whole Foods and Plentifulapp to meet the need of food security within the NYCHA Seward Park Extension development and surrounding low income communities near the Essex Street Crossing. The Pantry now currently provided home delivered pantry to the doorstep of residents in the Lower East Side. Sign up here for free: https://visionurbana.org/pantry_form info@visionurbana.org (646) 626-9748

This is just a small selection of groups and organizations working to serve the community. In true New York spirit, there are many more out there. Consider supporting one, or seeking assistance from one if you need it.



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