When The U.S Government Fails, Mutual Aid Workers Step Up: Part I

Diverse volunteers packing donation boxes with canned food in food bank

When The U.S Government Fails, Mutual Aid Workers Step Up

Happy New Year! 

I know we are all so excited to be getting a fresh slate and looking ahead to better days. I wanted to start off this year by showing thanks to local people and organizations who are helping this community get through tough times. 

I, personally, have seen so many people step up to the plate and make it their mission to house, feed, and clothe the most vulnerable in Rochester. Over the next few months, I will highlight some of those groups and organizations. 

(they/them) Ilhan Ali (they/them) runs ROC Food Relief. The group has helped feed thousands of people during the pandemic. Some families had meals on the table during the holidays thanks to Ali and a small group of volunteers. 

Ali says they know firsthand what it feels like to be food insecure. 

“When I was younger, school lunch or breakfast was the heftiest meal I got. I would get dinner if it was a family thing, but my mom just worked a lot,” says Ali. “The frustration of her constantly being at work and their never being enough food no matter how much she worked settled in at a young age.”

Ali first experienced mutual aid when neighbors would look out for them and their family during those tough times. 

Born in Somalia, Ali came to America as a refugee. I wanted to know what made them so adamant about helping those in Rochester when they have no family ties here.

“I felt like I could make this a home,” says Ali. “I noticed how people hated Rochester and wanted to leave, but for me Rochester is nice compared to other places I’ve lived. People take care of each other and there’s a sense of community.”

Rochester is a community. One of the poorest in the country. Those struggling are looking to the government for relief. They are met with a measly $600 check and food pantries that have ableist limitations on pickups. Ali says when it comes to help from local officials, they could do a lot better when it comes to making the food more accessible. 

“The City does a lot of drive-thru and pickup instead of coming into neighborhoods that have the most need,” says Ali. “If you can’t afford food, you may not be able to afford babysitters or transportation and its abelist to assume that everyone can come out and get things.”

Ali and other organizations have created a space where folks don’t have to wait for the government in order to get help. Mutual aid has saved so many from starvation and homelessness, but some still shame people for crowdfunding.

“There’s this stigma around asking for donations,” says Ali. “Like you shouldn’t be begging for money on the internet, but the government is taking our money and no one finds that an issue. When poor people find ways to survive, it’s stigmatized.”

Ali is looking toward the future and hopes the future holds a place for a market where neighbors can help neighbors.

“It would be so cool if we had a free market where neighbors shared with neighbors. A monthly meet up where everyone can share what they can give.”

By supporting mutual aid, you are helping your neighbors. Ali wants people to realize that nothing is guaranteed. Some could very well go from supporting to needing help from an organization like ROC Food Relief.

“There’s always people who have too much and people who don’t have enough,” says Ali.

“Everyone is a day away from losing everything. People should be grateful. Everything you say you have worked so hard for could be gone tomorrow.”

This can be tireless and thankless work. So be sure to support and show thanks to those who do it.

If you would like to donate and support ROC Food Relief:

  • Venmo @momjeans91 
  • Cash app: $NoJusticeNoPeace585
About Brianna Milon

Brianna is local media professional who loves writing, watching Netflix, and playing with her dog, Weenie and her cat, Fancy. She studied Journalism and Broadcasting at SUNY Brockport and was heavily involved in the campus radio station. Brianna also co-hosts a radio show, “Fat, Black, and Femme”, on 100.9 WXIR. You can find out more on Facebook and Blogspot.

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