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MICHIGAN CITY — In this unprecedented time of uncertainty caused by the global pandemic, resources are being stretched to the max at nonprofit agencies that provide food and other assistance for low-income families.
As a result, Organized and United Residents of Michigan City (OURMC) has stepped up to create a mutual aid program designed to connect people and fill their specific needs.
“The whole foundation of mutual aid is that people know what they need, and people also know what they can offer,” said Amy Straka, spokesperson for OURMC. “It’s matching everyday, regular people with each other to get their needs met. Because institutions and government are not meeting people’s needs right now.”
Straka said the OURMC Neighbors Response Team, comprised of about 70 volunteers, has been working daily for weeks to make sure people have access to supplies they need, despite barriers such as loss of income, lack of transportation or inability to locate supplies in supermarkets.
She gave the example of one family that reached out with a need for bleach and baby wipes. A volunteer located a person willing to donate those items and delivered them to the family’s porch, where she found the family had left a box of food from their pantry that they wanted to share with others.
“Lots of people who have expressed a need are the same people who have signed up to volunteer or donate,” Straka said. “Primarily, poor and working-class people with limited resources are the ones signing up to help, and some members of OURMC.”
As the Neighbors Response Team is currently operating, donated supplies are being stored at a private facility. When requests come in, the designated volunteer for that day is tasked with seeing if the need can be met from the growing stockpile.
If it can be, they coordinate delivery. If not, that person works to locate someone who can donate the item or the funding needed to purchase or order that supply.
“Most of what sharing has gone on has been from one family’s pantry to another,” Straka said. “But as this crisis intensifies, the needs of Michigan City cannot be met pantry-to-pantry.”
OURMC plans to operate the mutual aid program for as long as needed, but Straka noted it isn’t sustainable if only poor and working-class people contribute.
“Times of crisis like this can make us feel like each person has to look out only for themselves,” the OURMC website states. “In reality, we know we have better chances if we stick together and support one another.”
They encourage anyone able to assist with food supply and distribution to fill out a volunteer form on the group’s website.
And anyone in need of food or supplies can find a request form for mutual aid there as well.
Neighbors who are sick, disabled, quarantined without pay, elderly, undocumented, living in poverty, over the age of 50, immuno-compromised, or otherwise high-risk will be prioritized.
To access either form, visit OURMC.org and click “Mutual Aid.”