Mutual aid benefits communities, volunteers

Illustration of a box and vines with the text "all we have is each other"
Summer Dae Binder / The Mossy Log

Students should contribute time to Portland’s many service-oriented organizations, such as Hygiene4All

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, mutual aid has grown as a practice of direct action and an alternative to charity. Mutual aid embraces solidarity among all communities by giving what one can for those in need, while creating a network of new social relations. Instead, mutual aid efforts address the issues that city governments and bureaucrats dismiss. 

Due to its lack of hierarchy, mutual aid provides fewer barriers than the charity business model. However, there are many challenges with mutual aid projects, such as lack of full-time staff and technical assistance, as well as undeclared status disqualifying for government grants and tax benefits. It is also true that many Portland locals only offer words and ideas to help those in need, but do not act upon them. Nonetheless, many mutual aid organizations in Portland have received varying degrees of support from activists and leaders who have a sound vision of their service. 

Portland is a haven for mutual aid organizations. It is home to many initiatives focused on assisting the unhoused community, such as Street Roots, Symbiosis Hub & Resource Exchange and Milk Crate Kitchen. Other organizations that are not exclusive to houselessness include Don’t Shoot PDX, a community action plan advocating for community members facing racism and discrimination and Growing Gardens, a non-profit organization facilitating garden-based learning opportunities. 

My time doing mutual aid has been empowering. The independent collective Food Not Bombs is where I first started my mutual aid journey. Food Not Bombs is an all-volunteer global organization that distributes free vegan meals as an act of protest against war and poverty. The Portland chapter of Food Not Bombs meets at Buckman Elementary every Saturday from 5-7 p.m. 

Another organization that has been a great service to the unhoused is Hygiene4All in Southeast Portland. Hygiene4All started in 2018 when the Central Eastside Industrial Council petitioned the City of Portland to form an “Enhanced Service District” after complaints of bio-waste trash and people sleeping on the streets. The council proposed collecting $3 million in real estate and parking fees and using the funds to hire private policing to patrol public space. 

Leaders at Hygiene4All argued these problems can be better solved by creating a space with access to safe, clean and accessible bathrooms and showers. Hygiene4All has been very successful and has received praise from Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran. Volunteering at these organizations has given me the opportunity to help build community, meet new people and feel uplifted. 

Mutual aid is a great opportunity for the college students with extra time on their hands to get out in the Portland community and meet different people and learn new skills. For those who are not able to facilitate with goods or money, donating time and skills are just as important. Many students at Lewis & Clark may even find time volunteering at a mutual aid organization as a good escape from the college’s bubble. Some may learn something about themselves that they would not have otherwise. 

When cities face skyrocketing housing prices and resources become less affordable leaving people on the streets, an opportunity for community and collaboration is created. Our future depends on each other because that is all we have. Now it is your turn to give your praxis, or practice, power. We can find light through all the darkness in the world by engaging in a solidarity movement, but we cannot do it alone.

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