Germantown Neighbors Create Fund To Address Needs During Pandemic

by 
Lindsay Stolkey, for the Shuttle
A mini food pantry in front of a Germantown resident’s home.

Neighbors in Germantown are creating mutual aid support networks to care for each other in the face of COVID-19-related hardship. With so many jobs affected and issues with unemployment benefits, many folks are having a difficult time making ends meet. In the mutual aid concept, everyone is connected and can be involved in an exchange of resources; we all have something to offer and receive.

One project that embodies this concept is the Germantown Mutual Aid Fund, created at the end of April. GMAF pools money and distributes it twice a month. Neighbors in need of financial support may request gifts from the fund to help cover their basic and/or emergency expenses. In the first two months, just over $28,000 has been collected and $16,000 given out.

Anita Wood, a lifelong Germantown resident and single mom of two young boys, lost her job at a day care when the shutdown began. Unemployment was slow to kick in, and she needed help covering rent. A financial gift received through GMAF met that need.

The most commonly requested gifts through the fund are for rent and utilities. Child care, transportation, emergency home repair and medical expenses are also eligible types of expenses. Applicants who are senior citizens, longtime Germantown residents and people of color were given higher priority. Urgency and degree of need were guidelines as well.

The fund was created and is operated by a volunteer committee of Germantown Residents for Economic Alternatives Together, a grassroots neighborhood group and 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Committee members Cathy Brown, Jill Saull, Marie-Monique Marthol, Susan Christian, and Lindsay Stolkey met weekly on Zoom for about two months to get all the systems in place.

A COVID-19 Solidarity Organizing Fund grant from Bread & Roses Community Fund provided funding for GMAF to pay a Germantown-based bookkeeper. A few more neighbors joined the committee in June — Felicia Coward, Tiffany Dominique and Barbara Dowdall — so that members could better share the responsibility and sustain their roles in the effort.

Our hope is that folks see GMAF not as a one-time gift, but as a step toward building a more caring community where people look out for one another and help to meet each other’s needs. Each small act helps strengthen the fabric of our neighborhood. We encourage everyone involved to participate in other acts of care — to check in with their elderly neighbors; to offer to pick up groceries or look after a child; to respond to requests for help through our Germantown Time Bank, or to help with mutual aid projects organized by other residents and activists like the Germantown Supply Hub on Church Lane or the mini food pantries in front of private homes.

Of the 157 donations made to GMAF, a large majority came in just after the launch. One of the first came from Donna Bonnett. “...I wanted to help contribute to my neighbors in some small way,” she said.

Bonnett, a native of Guyana, has lived in senior housing in Germantown for 15 years. ”You know the saying... a little can go a long way,” she added. With donations starting at $10 each, that’s the mentality that has generated such widespread generosity.

As word about GMAF spreads deeper into the community, we expect to start receiving many more requests for support, so the fund will only be able to sustain itself as long as there are incoming contributions.

We hope that neighbors will continue to feel solidarity with those experiencing higher financial stress, and consider playing a role in this effort to keep people rooted in their community. There is no minimum donation amount, and every single donation is impactful.

You can help us grow this culture of care by visiting https://chuffed.org/project/germantown-mutual-aid-fund. We can also accept checks sent to:

Germantown Mutual Aid Fund
P.O. Box 48011
Philadelphia, PA 19144