YOUNGSTOWN — If you've heard of "mutual aid," it's probably been in the context of a large house fire or a car accident.
When first responders don't have the capacity to independently handle a large crisis, they'll call on surrounding fire departments and ambulances to help out. These agreements are cooperative.
Mutual aid is also the strategy some community organizers are using to coordinate resources for people during the coronavirus pandemic.
"It is based on the simple concept that everybody both has needs and has resources and skills they can provide," said Kevin O'Donnell, a community organizer and substitute teacher in central Ohio.
"So instead of just charity, where we see one group of people who are givers and one group of people who are receiving those gifts, mutual aid is a way for our communities to care for each other and meet all of our needs."
Organizers like O'Donnell are developing lists that match people who have corresponding needs and resources.
"For example, somebody might be able to provide childcare for someone else, but they really need somebody to drive them to the store," said O'Donnell.
Youngstown resident Julie Scarsella saw the work O'Donnell was doing in the wake of the pandemic and created the Facebook group Mutual Aid Youngstown.
"I really just wanted something for the Youngstown-Warren community to be able to access and network through quickly," said Scarsella. "This area is just amazing when it comes to answering a call when help is needed."
This effort doesn't stray far from the nature of Scarsella's professional life, where she manages operations for Ohio Organizing Collaborative.
The Youngstown Facebook group already has nearly 3,000 members and hundreds of posts ranging from updates about the closure of Macy's to tips on where to find toilet paper.
Mutual aid won't disappear when the health crisis ends.
For organizers like O'Donnell, the pandemic has made clear that current social safety nets are not sufficient. He plans to make mutual aid a permanent fixture of the community.
"We're here to stay," said O'Donnell.
Those who would like to volunteer to help monitor the form can reach out to Scarsella at firstname.lastname@example.org.
People interested in setting up mutual aid networks in their own Ohio communities can reach out to O'Donnell at email@example.com.