By Cheryl Bauer
The crisis situation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic for many neighbors in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County has highlighted the starkest vulnerabilities in our society, but it has also provoked a tremendous response from our communities to fill gaps where our government and economic systems are currently crumbling.
Pittsburgh Mutual Aid (PMA) is a grassroots volunteer effort to meet the present needs of our neighbors in crisis with existing supplies, food, and programs in our communities. PMA provides a safe space for Pittsburgh area residents to request assistance or offer resources that they are personally able to share. Inspired by a framework that emerged among students at Carnegie Mellon University as they faced the impact of COVID-19, PMA grew into a city-wide operation after posting an expansive online spreadsheet, dubbed the “Resource Library.” There public users post personal requests for assistance or any resources they are able and willing to offer, such as help running errands, purchasing essential items like food, cleaning supplies, or facemasks, delivering groceries, and finding transportation or other resources in their neighborhood. We recognize that many charitable initiatives and non-profit endeavors are limited in scope by whatever resources are allocated to them directly, and depend on those resources to fund their operations as well. PMA resources are offered, organized, and distributed entirely by local volunteers. There are no staff and no overhead, so everything given, whether as cash or donations-in-kind, is redistributed to people and families who have requested help through PMA.
Since the project’s inception as a simple Google form and resource list in March, a website and Facebook page have been launched as a result of further volunteer efforts. The new website, http://www.pittsburghmutualaid.com, consolidates information about local resources and provides direct links to the PMA request and offer form or to donate funds to the cause. A team of volunteers review all requests and offers and work to find available matches. Volunteers are also taking calls and returning messages for PMA at 412-301-6127, and can assist those without the ability to complete the online form.
This effort wouldn’t be successful without the generous contributions of time, money and labor from the community. In addition to the resource matching team, so far 18 volunteers and growing, PMA includes a team of volunteer fundraisers and organizers who have led efforts to re-distribute sums of up to $250 per request for financial assistance. A Virtual Rent Party fundraiser was held on April 18, sponsored by Wheek Care Guinea Pig Rescue and featuring music by DJ KK, which raised $900 in just a few hours. At last count, over $20,000 in aid had been raised to provide direct financial support to over 70 recipients. A partnership with Ratzon: Center for Healing and Resistance in Bloomfield has given PMA the capacity to coordinate food distribution at their site in Bloomfield, where PMA volunteers can pick up prepared groceries from Ratzon’s volunteer coordinators for delivery to individuals and families. Individual volunteers and donors fund food and supply orders that exceed Ratzon’s resources.
We wouldn’t have been able to reach so many of our neighbors without the vital contributions of labor from our Social Media, Infrastructure, Flyering, and Developer teams whose work too often goes unrecognized. We are grateful and humbled that so many have come forward to support our mutual aid program and others like it in our town, our state, and across the nation.
Are you interested in helping out? Can PMA help you? Please call 412- 301-6127 and leave a message with your name and contact information, or visit http://www.pittsburghmutualaid.com to fill out our form and let us know! Questions can be emailed to c19mutualaidPGH@gmail.com. Donations can be directed to PMA via CashApp ($PghMutualAid), Venmo (@PghMutualAid), or GoFundMe (https://www.gofundme.com/f/ pgh-mutual-aid-covid19-emergency-fund), and to Ratzon via Venmo (@ Ratzon-Food-Distro). Follow Pittsburgh Mutual Aid on Facebook for updates and information about how you can find or offer help.
Cheryl Bauer is a member of the NewPeople Editorial Collective and the TMC, and a volunteer with Pittsburgh Mutual Aid.
NewPeople Newspaper VOL. 50 No. 4. May/June, 2020. All rights reserved.