St. Olaf student organizers formed the Northfield Mutual Aid Fund this past summer.
“A mutual aid fund is a network of community members who act as a centerpiece for other community members who need aid. It can take the form of monetary aid, food assistance, rent assistance,” said organizer Anna Schneller ’22. “We are a network of community members who help each other with necessities, first and foremost.”
The group decided to form the fund in light of the summer’s overlapping crises of the pandemic and racial injustice. The pandemic has prompted the creation and expansion of mutual aid funds across the country.
“At least for me personally, when the school closed in March and I flew home, I had to isolate in an apartment by myself,” said organizer Matt Mackenzie ’22. “I just kind of got dumped there with no mask, no resources, no anything, and my county had already had this mutual aid network set up and I was able to get some supplies that I needed through that, so that’s how I first started thinking about the idea.”
Currently, the Mutual Aid Fund is mainly operating through microgrants, but the fund hopes to expand their services to groceries and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) delivery soon.
The group is clear about the distinction between mutual aid and charity. “Mutual aids don’t ask you to fill out any forms or prove your need. You just say, ‘I need X amount of money for groceries,’ and then we’ll just give you X amount of money for groceries or we’ll go and get you groceries,” Schneller said. “Charities usually have big donors, but mutual aid relies on small community-sourced donations.”
“Speaking in terms of solidarity versus charity more broadly, there’s definitely a difference in power dynamic that comes into play,” Mackenzie said. “Basically a charity says, ‘You’re needy, I will help you’ and there’s a distinct hierarchy between the person who’s giving out the benefits and the person that’s receiving them.”
In contrast, mutual aid funds aim to share power collectively and distribute aid amongst peers. Mackenzie described this collaborative mindset: “In mutual aid it’s more like, ‘These systems are failing us, we will help each other — you need something now, I might need something later, and you can help me out then.’”
Although St. Olaf students run the fund, their focus is on coordinating community assistance for the Northfield area as a whole. The group has been reaching out to other organizations that are already active in Northfield.
At the same time, their connection to the student body benefits their immediate mission. “We know of needs that exist on campus and will exist in the future, and for example, we want to help CUBE in whatever way that we can with their ongoing anti-racism efforts,” Mackenzie said.
At present, Northfield Mutual Aid is looking for more students living on campus to help with the physical logistics of distributing aid, especially students with cars. Individuals can request aid by following the link in Northfield Mutual Aid’s Instagram bio
@northfieldmutualaid. Those interested in volunteering are encouraged to direct message the account.