Neighbors in the Keeling Neighborhood have been delivering food boxes to about 15 homes in the last few weeks. 

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Following a similar trend in cities throughout the world, Tucsonans have organized on their own in recent weeks to help support their neighbors and strangers through various mutual aid projects and groups. 

They're connecting on text messaging apps, communicating on Facebook and creating Google documents full of links to resources for any type of scenario people impacted by the coronavirus might find themselves in.

The basic philosophy of mutual aid is "solidarity not charity" says Megan Cox, who has been involved in health care work, advocacy and community organizing for many years and who is organizing a group of volunteers making hand sanitizer for people who are homeless. 

"It's about community supporting community, it isn't about a top-down approach to support within a community," Cox says. "It's about sharing resources equitably and really about activating community networks to help meet needs not being met by the system." 

Stephanie Noriega, another mutual aid group organizer who has spent several years working in social service and who now works in advocacy at the University of Arizona describes it as small acts by everyday people to support each other. 

"It's really about doing that and meeting people's basic human needs. Making sure folks have their medications and food to last them," she says. "We're not saving big things right now, we're not saving someone from getting their home foreclosed, we're doing small acts to at least ease that burden while other groups in the community are really doing that political, policy type work to be able to tackle some of the larger issues. 

There are many volunteer groups operating outside traditional social service organizations that have started in recent weeks to distribute food, sew masks, make sanitizer and share resources. 

Here are three examples of the ways Tucsonans are taking care of each other. 

Keeling Neighborhood COVID19 Mutual Aid

Keeling neighbors go shopping once a week to prepare food boxes for families in the neighborhood. 

Over the last three weeks a group of residents in the Keeling Neighborhood in midtown Tucson have been walking street by street leaving fliers on the windshields of cars or screen doors with a simple question in English and Spanish: “Do you need non-perishable food items or supplies?”

If yes, residents can call or text a Google Voice number and be connected with neighborhood volunteers who will shop, pack and deliver a box of pantry staples to their doorstep.

So far the group has covered about one-third of the neighborhood bordered by East Fort Lowell Road, North First Avenue, East Grant Road and North Stone Avenue that’s home to between 4,000 and 6,000 people. They've delivered about 15 boxes per week to neighbors in need using money from a GoFundMe they set up.

The mutual aid group is led by Keeling resident Carrot Quinn, and the idea to help her neighbors in this way started about three weeks ago as reports of the coronavirus outbreaks in Italy and Europe began to dominate the news and spread to the U.S. — and community lockdowns seemed inevitable.

“I started to panic and the form my panic took was, I was just really worried about the people in my neighborhood… It’s a super diverse neighborhood, there are middle class folks who own their own homes, and there are a lot of people who rent and a lot of working class folks and it’s a real mixed neighborhood,” Quinn says. “But there are a lot of people who have need already without getting laid off because of the pandemic, or maybe being ill, or different things that can happen. And so it gave me something to focus on which actually felt good.”

She found other neighbors to help with the effort and the group communicates using an app to organize the work. The effort is as simple and efficient as possible to be able to help as many people as there are funds and volunteer capacity for.

“Our goal is to just get some non-perishables into people’s pantries now, for whoever needs it to just shore up people a little more, because it is getting harder for people to meet their basic needs,” Quinn says.

Three volunteers go shopping once a week and three volunteers help with delivering the food boxes. The people who help vary each week depending on their availability and capacity. They spend $40 per food box and try to get as many non-perishable staples as possible for that amount: canned tuna or chicken, pasta, sauce, peanut butter, ramen, whatever is available at the time. They split up to different grocery stores, shop in stores outside of poorer communities and only buy food for up to four boxes at each store so they don’t clear out any shelves. Then the boxes are packed and delivered to doorsteps.

For Keeling resident Donna Avelar the gesture came at the right time.

“I just felt thankful when Carrot came because it was a difficult time,” Avelar says. The 57-year-old is disabled and has limited mobility along with other health conditions. She lives on a fixed income and when all her bills are paid and necessities are covered there’s not much money left over.

“She’s doing a great job of helping people, she’s a wonderful person,” Avelar says. “She’s young, she’s vibrant and she’s outgoing and her and her friends didn’t have to care, but they did and I’m thankful for that.”

And in the true spirit of mutual aid Avelar shared some of the food she received with another friend in need.

Quinn says one of the most useful things people can do in times of crisis is shift their focus to be more place-based and to look at the needs of those immediately around them. 

“A lot of people live in a lot of different neighborhoods so if we organized that way we can actually cover a lot of ground and look out for people who might be high risk, which is really cool,” she says. 

The Keeling group has been delivering about 15 food boxes per week, but hopes to be able to increase that amount and meet the needs of the entire neighborhood if they can raise more funds, find refrigeration storage space to be able to keep perishable items, and connect with restaurants or food sources to be able to purchase items in bulk or collect donations. The group has set up a GoFundMe page to collect donations and share more information about their work.

Tucson Medic Initiative

This three word phrase has been seared into our brains over the last few weeks: Wash. Your. Hands. 

But, for people who are are experiencing homelessness and don't have access to soap and water, adhering to that guidance can be a challenge. Helping get sanitizer into the hands of those who really need it is the current focus for the newly formed Tucson Medic Initative, a self-organizing group of volunteers that includes EMTs, medical-first responders, clinical herbalists, street medics, disaster relief workers, trauma therapists, birth and death doulas and body workers.

The collective formed a couple weeks ago when people active in other mutual aid and outreach efforts year-round in the community connected via a messaging app to start discussing ways these networks could organize to support community needs during the pandemic, says Megan Cox who is part of the collective and leads its fundraising efforts. 

"We have efforts in place year-round in Tucson like Casa Maria, Z Mansion, Community Food Bank, Food Not Bombs — just major ones off the top of my head — that are always providing services and so the medic collective is doing its best to take the pulse of what needs we can infill that aren't being met by the system or otherwise," Cox says. "Ultimately when (the collective) sat down and talked about this, it was very clear that we need to clean our hands a lot and houseless people don’t have access to water, and so sanitizer became a really obvious thing that would help answer some of those issues."

The group is working with home distillers and a local distillery to produce the alcohol for the sanitizer and with herbalists that are creating the final product. 

Cox says the herbalists are following formula recommendations from doctors and professors of medicine from the University of Arizona, master herbalists and the World Health Organization's guide to local production of handrub formulations.  

On Thursday, the group delivered its first 60-bottle batch of sanitizer, 4 oz. each, for distribution at Tucson Food Share, another mutual aid initiative started by Food Not Bombs that provides free pantry staples and produce to anyone who needs it twice a week. 

The group hopes to make more sanitizer, but sourcing the high-proof alcohol and bottles has been a challenge as supplies are limited, Cox says. 

"Our production is being limited by our ability to access bottling supplies," she says. "We have been ordering and ordering them but they keep being rationed at the distribution points and so we get like a third of what we order."

Cox is the organizer of the collective's GoFundMe page where more information can be found about the effort. She also recently launched a website that has more information about the other mutual aid efforts in Tucson and links to a variety of resources. 

Tucson Mutual Aid Facebook Group

When Marisa Muro became sick about three weeks ago, she decided not to take any chances and immediately self-quarantined. She knew she'd eventually run out of food and supplies and would have to reach out for help, but didn't know it would be mostly strangers that would answer the request. 

On March 25 she posted a request in the Tucson Mutual Aid Facebook Group for vegan food items, Tylenol and ginger ale to be dropped off at her door while she was in quarantine. She had so many people offering to help she had to turn several people away. 

Ultimately about six people, mostly strangers and some friends fulfilled the request and dropped off canned and dried goods, fruits and vegetables, tea, Tylenol and a plant to her doorstep. And some have continued to check in with her over the week to make sure she's OK. 

"It felt great. I knew I wasn't alone in this," she said via Facebook Messenger. "To have complete strangers be concerned gives me a lot of hope for what's at the end of this."

The Facebook group was created almost three weeks ago and is a place where people can share resources and information, post needs they might have or share help they can provide. People make offers to leave excess food or supplies on their doorsteps for others to pick up if they need it, to deliver groceries to people, and there's lots of sharing of links to resources being offered by non-profits and other social service agencies. 

There are four core organizers associated with the effort, two who focus on moderating the group and two who are focused on networking in the community, says Stephanie Noriega one of the organizers. 

She says the group is meant to be a place for leveraging community support and resources, namely time and energy to "contribute to the greater good of this city" and support each other. 

"Our non-profits and social services right now are 100 percent inundated so mutual aid is saying 'hey we need to recognize that everyone is impacted even our social service systems that would ordinarily be the go-to place. How do we leverage everyone's spirit of giving and spirit of unity to meet basic needs here and there,'" she says. "Really the philosophy is ... all we need is everyday people here and there saying 'hey I can do this small thing.' It's really about everyone being able to do something. Small acts that really contribute to a bigger cause."

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