Many of the New Orleanians responding to the COVID-19 disaster by starting food relief programs don’t think of it as charity. They think of it as solidarity. Mutual aid.
Jasmine Araujo, founder of the group Southern Solidarity in New Orleans, explains mutual aid as “a reciprocal exchange.”
“[We] wish to highlight that our well-being is tied to that of most exploited person in the country,” she said. “When those forced to the margins are provided with what they need, the nation as a whole prospers.”
Some groups that have stepped up, like Familias Unidas, were already doing this work. Others, like the NOLA Tree Project, were doing entirely different work. And others didn’t even exist before the coronavirus hit. They came together in the crisis to do what Araujo describes as “centering care and tenderness” to their neighbors.
New Orleans’ mutual aid efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic mirror what Rebecca Solnit describes in her book “A Paradise Built in Hell,” about how communities respond during disasters:
“An emergency is a separation from the familiar, a sudden emergence into a new atmosphere, one that often demands we ourselves rise to the occasion. … You can think of the current social order as something akin to artificial light: another kind of power that fails in disaster. In its place appears a reversion to improvised collaborative, cooperative, and local society.”
This work provides a glimpse into our collaborative, local society. New Orleanians are indeed rising to the occasion.
The group put up posters around town and people are contacting them directly for supplies, which volunteers are delivering.
They are distributing 20 boxes a day, and the label on every box of food reads:
“We are all we really have”
“All we have is each other”
Cyndi Nguyen, New Orleans City Council member, and her staff are distributing baby food, diapers and food items across New Orleans East to those who have requested assistance. Ngyuen says their work varies everyday, but they’re doing this kind of relief work “eight days a week” right now.
They are receiving donations of ingredients from restaurants and buying food with monetary donations coming in through Venmo.
Started by Jasmine Araujo, Southern Solidarity is a group of volunteers working out of Araujo’s home in the Marigny.
Southern Solidarity is buying, packing and delivering hot meals, blankets and clothes to people living on the street in New Orleans during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Flowers for Food
Flower sales for Flowers For Food are happening twice a week right now. Proceeds average $500 to $750 twice a week.
The effort is a collaboration of nine women who are local farmers and flower growers.
“This is a bright spot for me, having things to do is really helpful for me,” Maggie Kaiser said. “Most of the women doing this were trying to figure out what they could do, so it is bringing people together with energy and resources to share.”
Lakeview Christian Center
Lakeview Christian Center cooks 350 meals a day with fresh ingredients, and the food is then distributed to the homebound and elderly by NOLA Tree Project volunteers.
Before the COVID-19 lockdown, Familias Unidas was supporting 80 families. This week they are providing food for 475 families.
Familias Unidas depends on donations and volunteers to purchase, pack and deliver boxes of culturally relevant food. It was founded in 2018 to create a safety net for people arriving to the U.S. who didn’t have any housing or support. The group provides temporary housing, food and other support to recent immigrants.
Co-founder Leticia Casildo is an undocumented immigrant from Honduras.
“When I came to the U.S. 17 years ago I didn’t have anything and I didn’t have anybody. I was fleeing for my life, but I was never able to apply for asylum because of fear that I should just stay quiet and in the shadows,” she said. “That was one of the reasons we started Familias Unidas, was to help people get the information they needed to be able to apply for asylum.”
NOLA Tree Project
NOLA Tree Project is now distributing food instead of trees.
They have volunteers deliver hot meals to homebound and seniors.
Connie Uddo started NOLA Tree Project seven years ago.
“When the governor closed schools on the 13th, I saw a need for food,” she said. “I called Second Harvest and started [giving away food] on the 17th. Today we’re probably at 30,000 meals.”
Now, they’re receiving food from Second Harvest and from a local church. They served 1,200 meals April 13.
Photography for this story was funded by the National Geographic Society.