Featured Information Bar, Optional

How to Start a Mutual Aid Group

Right now, people around the country are coming together to take care of each other in our communities.

Mutual aid groups are informal groups of volunteers that help neighbors connect during times of crisis and assure no one in the community has to face it alone, especially those most in need. The support these groups provide to their neighbors include activities like: like grocery delivery, childcare, dog-walking, cooking meals, and checking in virtually. If you would like to start your own group, use this guide to get started.

Before you start a new group

Check to see if a group in your area already exists.

Step ONE

Find Someone to Work With

Identify someone to help share the work. Helping lead a mutual aid group can be a lot easier and more fun with someone else. They can help get the group started, bringing ideas, resources and new relationships.

To find a teammate, ask yourself:

  • Who do I know in my neighborhood, building, or block?
  • Who do I know with helpful skills or resources for starting this group (e.g. money management skills, tech skills, access to a vehicle)?
Suggestions:
  1. See if a group in your area already exists
  2. Use this Start a Group Checklist as a road map

Step Two

Make a Plan

Work with your teammate to establish the basics:
  1. Determine the focus of your group
    • Who would you like to support?
    • Start small, 5 to 15 people is a good size.
    • Focus on your block, neighborhood, or even your apartment building.
    • Balance your physical and emotional capacity in order to maximize your impact. You can always grow once you get the hang of things.
  2. Assess possible needs and resources
    Figure out how people in your community are being impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. What do they need? What can other people offer? These types of questions will help your group identify the best ways to support each other and it’s a great opportunity to build relationships. Other questions to consider:
    • Who lives in your community? How are they being impacted by COVID-19?
    • What are people struggling with? What support do they need?
    • What resources do people have to offer?
    • Who is interested in joining the group?
Suggestion:
Gather important local information resources with this document

Step Three

Create Your Group

Develop a core team. You might need a few people who can put in more work than others, or who have specific skills. Relationships are the foundation of mutual aid, so remember that everyone is being impacted by this crisis and all have different experiences. You might ask,How can this core group show up for each other, while also supporting others?”

Establish community norms. Norms help groups build a strong culture of working together, keeping it safe and respectful. Ask the group: “How do we want to work together? What is important to each of you as you help build this group?” 

Determine roles. Roles ensure that everyone is clear on how they can best contribute. Distributing important tasks across the group helps everyone feel like an important part of the team. We suggest considering people for the following roles:

  • Coordinators: Leads meetings, manages communication within the group, makes sure the whole group is working together.
  • Outreach: Coordinates outreach and communications, such as putting up flyers, making social media posts, calling neighbors.
  • Volunteers: A larger group of people who offer services and support.
  • Logistics: Gathers, organizes and distributes materials. Helps to set up technological needs.
Suggestions:
  1. Here are initial group norms you can share
  2. Use this email/text message template for inviting people
  3. Here are example social media posts you can use

Step Four

Setup a System of Support

Create a system for matching needs and requests with offers of support. Here are a few ways you can do this:

  • Set up a Facebook Group or simple website.
  • Create an intake form for assistance requests and volunteers. 
  • Provide a “hotline” that people can call or leave a voice message on.
  • Use a flyer template or create your own for posting around a grocery store, park, apartment etc.
  • Maintain a text thread of participants
Choose a way to stay in communication. Maintaining regular communication across the internal group is also important. Decide on a technology platform(s) that best suits the needs of your group. Each service has its benefits and drawbacks, you might ask what folks in my group are already familiar with? And which platform will help us best do our work?

Step Five

Get the Word Out

Start reaching out to make your support available and identify new participants. Use multiple outreach strategies to ensure that you are connecting with people who most need support:

  • Directly call and email people.
  • Post flyers (where allowed).
  • Post to social media.
  • Ask leaders in your community to tell others about the group.
Suggestions:
  1. Register Your Group with Us​
  2. Use this email/text message template for inviting people
  3. Here are example social media posts you can use
  4. Post this flyer on a bulletin board at a park or apartment
  5. Want to call people? Here’s a script you can use
  6. The CDC has provided print materials to be share in the community

Step Six

Start Supporting Each Other

Match assistance requests with volunteers. Keep in mind some people might not feel comfortable asking for help or receiving help, so be sure to respect people’s  privacy when sharing information. Check in with volunteers and people requesting support after a service was provided and make sure their needs are being met.

Identify opportunities to support and take action to help those in need. This may require some creativity and empathy for the people in your neighborhood and with those most in need. Here are possible ways of supporting each other: 

Acts of Services

  • Deliver groceries and supplies
  • Run errands
  • Cook and deliver meals
  • Provide childcare and educational services
  • Care for pets
  • Fundraising and covering costs
  • Support with social services applications (Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, unemployment, etc.)

Emotional Support

  • Host virtual social gatherings: game nights, cooking parties
  • Make and share art, music, writing
  • Check in on people living alone
  • Provide virtual companionship
  • Connect people with mental health resources and providers

Info and Resources

  • Food bank information
  • CDC Health Guidelines
  • Local/State updates and policies
  • Social services access (Unemployment, insurance, Social Security, etc.)
  • Labor rights and regulations
  • Housing rights and regulations

Step Seven

Stay Connected, Stay Adaptable

Maintain regular communication with your team and volunteers. Keep building your group’s relationships through weekly check-ins. Make sure to encourage support among volunteers to keep people engaged. And take time to reflect and identify what is working and what is not working.

Be adaptable as the conditions of the coronavirus pandemic change. Continue listening to the needs of your community. Keep up to date on guidelines from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and government officials. Adjust how your group is working to support each other based on what you learn along the way.

Suggestions:
  1. Make sure everyone is familiar with the health & safety guidelines
  2. Request to join a National Slack Channel for Mutual Aid Groups
  3. See what other groups are doing

Remember to Share Your Group

Once you have created your group, help spread the word by registering with us so others can find it.

Resources

Health & Safety

Please follow all CDC guidelines for safety during this crisis. 

Mutual aid participants should take careful precautions to decrease the risk of contracting the virus or spreading it to others, especially to elderly and immunocompromised people whom the mutual aid effort aims to support. Below are some general safety practices that, if followed correctly will help minimize the spread of infection.

  1. Closely monitor your health.
  2. Implement physical distancing (~6 feet at all times).
  3. Use precautions when handling mutual aid supplies.
  4. Prevent and avoid physical interaction .
  5. Ensure participants understand and adopt health and safety guidelines provided by the CDC.
  6. Coordinate distribution of safe-handling supplies (gloves, masks, disinfectant, etc.).
  7. Over-communicate about community health and safety practices.
  8. Watch for signs of stress, trauma and exhaustion.

Acknowledgements

This “How To” was adapted and synthesized from many Mutual Aid Group resources that have sprang up in recent weeks around the United States. We are grateful to the many contributions of countless volunteers, organizers, and community leaders across the country. As with all of you, we are learning every day how to adapt and continue supporting one another. We’re honored to help our communities and provide this contribution in the form of Mutual Aid.

Did this ‘How To’ Help You?