This week has been harrowing for countless Texans and the usual nonprofits were stymied by the weather emergency. Food banks postponed distributions and shelters suffered significant structural damage. Mutual aid groups and local activists, though, didn’t hesitate to do what they always do in their communities: find the most vulnerable individuals and get them immediate help.
Ahead of the snow storms that barreled into Texas this week, Vanessa Wilmore was busy calling for extra tents and hand warmers for unhoused folks in Dallas. “We didn’t realize how bad the storm was going to be and that power was going to be out,” says the 24-year-old lead organizer. Wilmore founded her mutual aid group Feed the People Dallas Mutual Aid in June, and is now helping to find hotel rooms for residents who lack shelter.
“My days have just been cooking food and getting folks into hotels and organizing drivers to pick up donations and food,” Wilmore says. “We’re working on getting more hotel rooms, food to hotels, and big distributions with other orgs to pick up food, clothing, supplies.” Feed the People opened an assistance request form to gauge what the needs are—housing, hot meals, plumbing help, and monetary aid are top among them. As of Thursday evening, it’s garnered 300 requests and counting.
Wilmore and her mutual aid peers call this solidarity work, not charity work. “Charity comes from a power structure, but with solidarity or mutual aid, it’s about helping community—we’re all interconnected,” she says. “And if I have the resources, I’m gonna share it. It’s a mindset and intent.”
The practice of reciprocity undergirds many of these grassroots groups’ work.
“Let’s help people. Let’s feed people,” is Wilmore’s rallying cry.
Susana Edith, founder of Lucha Dallas, shares the same sentiment. In anticipation of the storm, Edith and her activist collective likewise shuffled people into hotels or got them to the convention center to stay warm and sheltered. “As the hotels filled up, we just started resorting to collecting supplies to help people survive through the night,” says Edith. They needed tents, hand warmers, socks, blankets, sleeping bags, and jackets.
“Let’s help people. Let’s feed people.”Vanessa Wilmore, Feed the People Dallas
As the region endured the unrelenting freeze throughout this week, Edith and fellow Lucha volunteers checked on people downtown and in East Dallas two to three times a day. “A lot of folks didn’t have any shoes and the temperature was decreasing rapidly.” They coordinated with other mutual aid groups on the ground to ensure needs were being met everywhere.
“This year we have focused on building bonds with unhoused folks because this is group that is always forgotten and often marginalized Black women, Black men, Latinx folks,” Edith says. “We’re not checking in on them [only] when it’s just bad. We are trying to build a connection, establish community with these folks, and make it a long-term relationship.”
Collective care is a long-term commitment, after all. Edith started Lucha Dallas around 2012. As more groups form, more inter-organization collaboration can occur.
Harvest Project Food Rescue, founded by Danae Gutierrez in 2014, has distributed over a million produce boxes to those struggling through COVID-19-induced income loss. This week, Harvest Project Food Rescue, along with Oak Cliff Veggie Project, set up an emergency warming tent with an industrial heat blower. They divided donated clothing and supplies, and separated rescued produce into crates for their weekly drive-thru pantry at the Warren United Methodist Church.
Mutual aid networks in Dallas-Fort Worth have been the boots on the ground since last year, when the pandemic was throttling the region’s most vulnerable communities. Well before these winter storms rolled in, organizers have stocked public refrigerators, stopped evictions during an economic recession, supported unhoused folks in the area, and kept people fed.
Writer Steven Monacelli penned a piece for Eater Dallas this week that focused on Camp Rhonda, a southern Dallas encampment of folks without housing. There, groups relocated residents out of the freezing cold and into hotels. And last year Eater editor Amy McCarthy followed the growth of DFW’s community fridges.
The consistent effort and energy several collectives, many of which are led by Black or BIPOC organizers, have allowed them to answer the great need caused by these recent snow storms. That need, though, is compounded by the months-long effects of COVID-19. The oft-neglected groups—unhoused people, families in neighborhoods with fewer resources like grocery stores and medical aid, perpetually underserved communities—have long suffered a lack of support from city leadership.
The lack of city response, says Edith, has “forced people to wake up and see the conditions in our city.”
The collective care will continue beyond this week, just as it’s been continual effort long before this week.
“This isn’t new. Black and brown and indigenous communities have been doing this since the beginning of time, but right now it’s more important than ever,” says Wilmore. “The government has failed—and we see that.”