Volunteer groups like Invisible Hands, COVID-19 Neighborhood Volunteers and thousands of others are forming throughout the world in response to social distancing and the novel coronavirus, connecting neighbors who can help with those in need. One of the first groups was in Wuhan, China, connecting neighbors with cars to neighbors who were no longer able to get where they needed to go when public transportation shut down. All-volunteer, citizen-organized “mutual aid” groups like the ones covered in these stories have emerged throughout history, often in response to natural disasters. Most of today’s groups are organized online via websites and spreadsheets, and some are recruiting volunteers through posters and cell phones. Nextdoor app recently added a “Help Map” feature to connect neighbors in need with those who can give.
While the stories in this collection (see bel0w) are both heartwarming and full of creative and effective models for mutual aid during the COVID-19 crisis, they also include warnings and instructions on how to support one another while still practicing social distancing. Information like this Mutual Aid 101 Toolkit provide guidance. Even while maintaining physical distance, however, individuals interviewed for these stories say that the human connection part of the equation is felt on both sides. “If there’s any silver lining from all of this,” said one woman in New York City, “it’s how wonderful it is that all of these new connections are being made.”