As mutual aid groups pick up the government’s slack during the pandemic, social justice organizations and funders are looking at how to continue this momentum.

Ayear of the COVID-19 pandemic has left millions jobless, hundreds of thousands dead, and many turning to neighbors and mutual aid groups, instead of the government, to make ends meet.

When Chicago Public Schools suspended its meal distribution program in late May, Trina Reynolds-Tyler and Dominique James formed what would eventually become the People’s Grab-N-Go, a weekly program that by the beginning of September had given food and supplies to 3,700 families in need.

Robust mutual aid programs, like the one run by the Black and trans-led Brave Space Alliance, kept people connected to health care, stable housing, and harm reduction services. BSA’s makeup room and den also help connect trans and gender-nonconforming people to important gender-affirming products like packing underwear, binders, and cosmetics.

Food banks like Greater Chicago Food Depository are helping feed just a fraction of the roughly 42 million people—13 million of whom are children—in the United States that nonprofit and national food bank network Feeding America says may experience food insecurity this year.

These hyperlocal organizations have had to step up their operations exponentially in part thanks to the government’s shoddy response to the pandemic. And activists say it shows the need for what many are calling the “solidarity economy,” an economic system based on equity, justice, and democracy.

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