Dr. Bronner’s Covid-19 product donation program—which we affectionately also call our “Mutual Aid” donation project—continues to distribute Organic Hand Sanitizer and Pure-Castile Soap to help community members in need. Our effort began in March 2020 and was inspired by a request from Urban Justice’s Safety Net project in New York City, when these crucial hygiene supplies were becoming increasingly unaffordable, or unavailable altogether.
Since March 2020, we have donated over 145,000 units of each product to groups supporting at-risk communities across the U.S. and in Canada, including seniors, people experiencing homelessness, frontline workers, and low-income communities. In 2021 alone we donated nearly 88,000 individual products. These products are distributed through a variety of nonprofit and grassroots outreach and direct-service efforts in the form of community pantries, hygiene kits, shower trailers, free stores, shelters, and outreach vehicles, just to name a few.
Increasingly we have focused our efforts on working with decentralized mutual aid groups that have launched across the country in response to the pandemic and other crises. The beauty of mutual aid projects is that they can be agile—able to shift focus to where community support is most needed at any given time.
Mutual aid projects are a form of social participation in which people voluntarily take responsibility to care for one another and improve social conditions. The concept of mutual aid has existed for thousands of years and has been practiced by many communities, especially communities of color and other historically marginalized groups. The term was popularized as a social and political theory by the Russian philosopher Peter Kropotkin at the end of the 19th century. Since then, mutual aid has been practiced by grassroots activists with little acknowledgement in broader public discourse, until recently. A well-known example of mutual aid was the Black Panther Party’s Free Breakfast for School Children Program in the early 1970s.
In 2020 thousands of mutual aid projects and networks emerged around the world. This ‘mutual aid moment’ has been spotlighted in numerous mainstream media stories about the uptick in community-led responses to Covid-19 and other crises. A sitting congressperson even teamed up with long-time grassroots organizer and author Mariam Kaba to produce a Mutual Aid 101 tool kit.
When a powerful idea becomes popular there’s a risk that it be flattened or stripped of its substance. It’s good to remember that mutual aid is first and foremost about community members voluntarily looking after each other. As a company that proudly supports both grassroots mutual aid and more conventional charitable efforts—we must respect the operating principles that make mutual aid distinct from charity. In fact, at the heart of this recent mass embrace of mutual aid work is the rallying cry “Solidarity Not Charity!” Trans activist and author of the book Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During this Crisis and the Next, Dean Spade explains:
“Mutual aid projects, in many ways, are defined in opposition to the charity model and its current iteration in the nonprofit sector. Mutual aid projects mobilize lots of people rather than a few experts; resist the use of eligibility criteria that cut out more stigmatized people; are an integrated part of our lives rather than a pet cause; and cultivate a shared analysis of the root causes of the problem and connect people to social movements that can address these causes.”
Chico Mutual Aid is a great example of a mutual aid project deeply rooted in its community, distributing lifesaving gear—including Dr. Bronner’s products—to the houseless and other vulnerable populations in the California’s Central Valley. When they saw their friends at North State Shelter Team setting up a new mobile shower trailer, they reached out to us to help coordinate a soap donation for their showers that provide dignity and hygiene to people in need.
We have also been working with a number of key nonprofit organizations that are working to address extremely high-risk scenarios in the pandemic. These include Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, who work with communities facing a range of natural and human-influenced disaster situations, and Solidarity Engineering, who have been doing incredible work providing hygiene infrastructure for unofficial migrant camps along the Mexico border, where Covid-19 rates have been very high. This short video provides a glimpse into their powerful work in Reynosa.
Mutual aid projects are a powerful example of emergent strategy. They reflect the potential of communities acting reflexively in coming together to address needs in times of crisis. Our donation program was conceived in this same spirit. When activist allies came to us in the beginning of the pandemic sharing their difficulty in securing necessary hygiene supplies for at-risk populations, we felt we had to step up.
We distribute our products to mutual aid groups because it is a concept that aligns deeply with Dr. Bronner’s All-One approach to community building and creating meaningful positive change. Dr. Bronner’s does not require or expect any mutual aid groups to promote or acknowledge our product donations in return for them. It’s been incredibly inspiring to connect with emerging networks across the country and play a small role in helping these projects to meet needs and address root causes. We look forward to continuing this program in 2022. If you work with a mutual aid project or a nonprofit distributing essential supplies to people in need, please feel free to get in touch.
For further reading on Mutual Aid in the mainstream media check out these articles: