In the face of an ongoing State of Emergency in Washington State, which has closed schools and grounded planes, the Tacoma Mutual Aid Collective (TMAC), has stepped in to provide free lunches to children and the wider community. It’s Going Down was able to speak with one TMAC member, who says that the group, which is made up of many people with young children themselves, were inspired by the example of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, who starting in the late 1960s, began providing free food to school children in African-American communities across the US, an act which terrified the US government and the FBI.
Mutual Aid is for the children. We are always inspired by our revolutionary elders in the black panther party. @tacomamutualaid will be out serving lunch today while Tacoma public schools are shut down. @SoEndSubversive pic.twitter.com/BFA3rTbwXQ
— Tacoma Mutual Aid (@tacomamutualaid) February 11, 2019
Autonomous mutual aid groups in the Pacific Northwest and beyond have been springing up in the last couple of months. In Downtown Olympia, a variety of groups have come together to carry out “Mutual Aid Mondays,” which offers free food, warm winter clothing and blankets for those living on the street, and access to first aid items. In Portland, local groups are also mobilizing their members to provide mutual aid on the streets and helping people at a variety of warming shelters. In Chicago in the wake of a deadly coldsnap, various autonomous groups came together to open a warming shelter and offer resources to those on the street.
Olympia, Washington is a a city of less than 60,000 peoples. Right now, the streets are empty because of a snow storm. Most people are in their houses looking at it through their windows, staying warm… https://t.co/xbxy5ZjS7s
— Olympia Assembly (@OlympiaAssembly) February 10, 2019
Groups involved in this organizing are also taking note of the connection between gentrification, rising rent costs, climate change, and the growing amount of people being forced to live out of their cars, or on the street. The member of TMAC we spoke to noted this reality in Tacoma, as the local shelters are currently at overflow capacity in the working-class city hit hard by de-industrialization that is also undergoing continuing displacement.
As an organization, TMAC has been involved in a variety of mutual aid projects and programs, from offering community members access to free laundry services, to the distribution of food and cold weather items on the street. In our phone interview, the TMAC member that we talked to stated, “In general we try to go out every other weekend, to serve anyone that needs support and as many people in our group actually has kids, we try and create space for children and their parents within our organizing.”
We’re out in downtown with @PNWYLF @OccupyICEPDX @DemandUtopia and Queer Liberation Front, handing out warming supplies and food out to the houseless community of PDX. Expect to see more of us! pic.twitter.com/KX5BkO6NKa
— PNW Youth Liberation Front (@PNWYLF) February 5, 2019
And when snow storms began approaching Tacoma last week, the group quickly began mobilizing to address the issue of local children losing access to meals in the face of school closures. As the member of TMAC told us, “The parents in our group are mostly low income and struggle with the extra expense of lunch on a school day. And if we are struggling, our neighbors are too.”
— TardigradeInTacoma (@TacTardigrade) February 9, 2019
Towards this end, members of TMAC made signs and created posts on social media advertising free food and other items, and encouraged people to meet at spots often used for free lunch programs in the summer. Members of TMAC also went door to door at apartment buildings, carried supplies via sled across town, and also distributed items directly to houseless people on the street.
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Today! #TacomaMutualAid Will be filling a community need by providing lunch to students as schools remain closed. If you know of a family with kids who normally receive free/reduced meals, please send them to one of our 4 outreach locations today. We have a variety of sack lunches going out to Jason Lee Middle School, Bryant Montessori, McCarver Elementary & Neighbors Park at 8th & I. We do this as a part of our commitment to mutual aid & out of respect for the history of the free lunch project, a program built by the Black Panther Party in the 60s. #BlackHistoryMonth #freelunch #reducedlunch #bpp #tacomapublicschools #CareForEachOther #mutualaid #feedthekids
As the group wrote on their Facebook:
Nearly 60% of Tacoma students are currently enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program. When school is out for unexpected and extended periods of time, many families are left scrambling to make sure they can provide meals for their students who otherwise receive them at school.
School is closed again tomorrow. Food Banks are closed. Stores are out of bread. WA is in a declared state of emergency due to the snow. TMAC will be at 4 locations tomorrow with sack lunches to make sure students aren’t going hungry during the storm.
It would be remiss of us, as a collective and especially during Black History Month, to not publicly acknowledge our respect and gratitude for the history of free school meal programs, which can be credited to The Black Panther Party.
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Some photos from today's free lunch action… the heavy snowfall meant we were only able to serve a few at each of the locations we chose. We were able to distribute the leftover sack lunches (over 120!) at an apartment complex in the neighborhood, feeding 5 large families for the next 2 days. So much love to everyone who donated food to help make this happen! We had a couple folx prepare lunches for us to hand out, including some tuna sandwiches which were very popular as "take home for later" meals. So happy to be able to help so many people 🖤 #TacomaMutualAid #schoolclosures #freelunch #253 #feedthekids #getthisbread #hilltop #tacoma #mccarver #jasonlee #bryantmontessori #neighborspark
Poor and working-class communities, especially of color, are targets of an all out attack, from austerity measures, gentrification, stagnant and declining wages, to tax cuts for the wealthy which are accelerating cuts to bare bones safety net programs that still do exist. In the face of this, groups like TMAC are organizing to meet the crisis head on, and they need all of our help and support. Donate to their project here.