With many residents in the Logan Square community facing elevated hardships this spring, legions of their neighbors are stepping in to provide support through a grassroots mutual aid initiative. Logan Square Mutual Aid is one of a handful of local aid networks that have cropped up amid COVID-19 “to make helping one another easy.”
The pandemic continues to necessitate business closures and precipitate mass layoffs and financial instability throughout Chicago. Logan Square Mutual Aid, part of a city-wide effort organized neighborhood by neighborhood, aims to provide support. The concept of “mutual aid” means “people get[ting] together to meet each other’s basic survival needs,” the Logan Square Mutual website states. Community members able to help can provide food, prescription and grocery pickups, and more to those in need.
An army of over 200 volunteers runs Logan Square Mutual Aid. Though they swap ideas with other Chicago mutual aid networks, these Logan residents operate the neighborhood’s effort independently, with no central governing structure for all the groups.
“It is not just a group of people who are like, ‘I am well set up in my life right now.’ There are people of all walks – we just want to help each other,” said David Michaels, a volunteer who built much of the Logan network’s internal processes and infrastructure. Michaels spends hours every day coordinating and dispatching aid requests.
He estimated that, as of late April, Logan Square Mutual Aid volunteers had carried out over 100 requests and distributed several thousand dollars’ worth of donations. And he predicted that both numbers would grow once the network gained greater visibility throughout the Logan Square community, especially given the crisis’s expected longevity. “The number of requests we’re getting right now does not reflect the actual needs,” he said.
The majority of those requests have been for food, though the aid offerings extend to pharmacy pickup, child care assistance, senior check-ins and more. Requests for rental assistance are being directed to housing-rights organizations and housing-specific resources, such as the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless Mutual Aid Fund.
To give or request aid, residents should visit the Logan Square Mutual Aid website and fill out the appropriate form (to get or give help). Though anyone can request aid, the website states, “We are prioritizing folks who are sick, disabled, quarantined without income, economically disadvantaged, elderly, undocumented, queer, black, indigenous, and/or people of color, or who have families in need.”
Michaels, 30, is a site-reliability engineer who was laid off following the pandemic’s onset. He decided to direct his energy to helping organize and expand the mutual aid effort.
“Helping those around me feels so much more important [than job hunting]. And this feels like such an important thing to build — for right now, but also as something that can continue to exist and be grown,” he said.
Already, the network has grown rapidly.
Logan Square Mutual Aid began as a Google spreadsheet circulating online in mid-March, where residents could sign up to give or receive assistance by inputting their name, phone number, and request or offer. The effort quickly grew into a website with security features to hide personally identifiable information. The addition of an accompanying Slack channel provided a place for multiple tiers of volunteers to coordinate requests.
Michaels explained that the volunteers’ first priority is expediency; their time is spent mostly divvying up requests.
“We honestly haven’t talked that much about what’s motivating us, because in every moment, we’re just in it. It is just like, ‘How can we best help these people immediately right now?’” he said. “There are big, broad questions to be asked and answered of this, but we’re also so much in the thick of it that it feels like the only way out is through.”
Volunteers have been fulfilling aid requests quickly and safely, without getting bogged down by bureaucracy, Michaels said. They’ve split Logan Square into six sections, with a leader in each unit directing their subset of volunteers. The group is implementing processes on an as-needed basis as it scales up. Michaels estimated that most aid requests take one or two days to complete.
It’s not lost on Michaels that the group is fulfilling duties that might be considered the government’s responsibility. And he said he’s not surprised by the disparities in Logan Square between those in need of aid and those in a position to give it. Rising costs of living in the neighborhood have been propagating a housing-affordability crisis for longtime residents.
But in a time when official systems of aid are stalling and autonomy feels like a precious commodity, Michaels said he’s grateful to have found an initiative through which he can act swiftly and effectively.
“It would be amazing if this organization didn’t need to exist and [if] this were culturally and systemically instilled in our society, but that is not the world we live in,” he said. “[Changing the government] is a very big shift to turn and a very slow and hard fight. But I can help people right around me. I can help people get groceries, people get medications they need.”
To give or request aid, please visit LoganSquareMutualAid.org.
Featured photo: Erik Island