Neighbors Helping Neighbors
A Mutual Aid Tompkins Community Project

My new normal. Each day my morning starts with a browse through Facebook hoping to connect with friends and family, celebrating the wonderful things people are doing for others, encouraging personal triumphs at this difficult time, supporting folks suffering with the covid-19 virus and sadly offering prayers and condolences to those who have lost a loved one. I awoke one misty morning to discover a Facebook post by an old friend, Matthew Spano, looking for a freezer because he found there was no food pantry in his neighborhood and there have been a lot of neighbors in need due to the covid19 pandemic. Within one day Matt was offered two deep freezers and a food pantry cabinet from Mutual-Aid Tomkins.

Article written by K-Lea Clyne.

Matt's enthusiasm to help those in need led him to the grassroots group called Mutual Aid Tompkins that started in March 2020 with a facebook page created by founders Josh Dolan and Juliana Garcia for residents of Ithaca, NY concerned for the needs of their neighbors struggling from the effects of the covid-19 pandemic. The facebook page started small but in less than one month grew to over 7000 members.
Food Box Delivery Volunteers Volunteers who go out daily to deliver food boxes.
From left to right: Fran Manzella, Mathew Spano, Ana Ortiz and Aleta Weaver.
The Supply Box Just some of the supplies that get delivered on a daily basis.
Mutual Aid Tomkins began raising money on a GoFundMe page and was so successful, they recently registered to become a nonprofit, but they themselves prefer to be known as a solidarity group. They explained that as a ‘solidarity group’ rather than a ‘charity’ they are providing support without strings attached because so much of charity in the US has access barriers that can make receiving help for “immediate needs” impossible. The board of Mutual Aid Tompkins, Alex Van Nostrand, Phoebe Brown, Ana Ortiz as well as Josh and Juliana trust that people know their own needs best, and should not be required to prove themselves as deserving of support.
This view by Mutual Aid Tompkins comes out of a negativity that surrounds charity or the word ‘charity’ in some American circles.

Although Mutual Aid Tompkins was created in response to COVID-19, primarily to fill gaps traditional charities and government systems have in providing barrier-free support to a broad range of people in their times of need, Mutual Aid Tompkins works off of getting feedback from community members, continuing to build relationships with aid-requesters and their aid-volunteers as an integral part of Mutual Aid Tompkins’ process.
At the same time, they seek to prioritize historically marginalized populations, such as Black, Indiginous, People of Color (BIPOC), and are trying to actively listen to existing community groups and leaders (especially black and brown) who have been doing mutual aid work in their communities long before the formation of Mutual Aid Tompkins. This is where Mutual Aid Tompkins sees itself, seeking to amplify and uplift local leadership in support of BIPOC communities.

Residents interested in helping their neighbors in the Greater Ithaca community may contact Juliana to acquire a food pantry cabinet for their yard. Juliana is responsible for having cabinets built and delivered and she also promotes to the Mutual Aid Tomkins Facebook members when pantry owners need help filling their cabinets.
Newly Built Food Pantries These food pantries are left at strategic points of Ithaca or placed in community members backyards so that the community can access them.

Over 30 blue food pantry cabinets have been placed to date and it is up to the community to help stock them. Pantry cabinets are left unlocked 24 hours a day so anyone can donate or take what they need, at any time. Each month Mutual Aid Tompkins also provides $150 of financial assistance for unpaid bills to qualified applicants in Ithaca.

Open To The Public A stocked food pantry cabinet in a community member’ backyard ready for neighbors to access.
Public Advisory Notice Each cabinet carries an advisory notice

Stocked Food Pantry All the food pantries that are spread over Ithaca are stocked similar to this

Mutual Aid Tompkins has partnered with Cornell Universities (Cornell Dining) who donates 150 boxes of food per day to residents; Greater Ithaca Activity Center (GIAC) provides a pick-center for the boxed donations; Southern Tier Food Bank assist in the provision of food; Mutual Aid Tompkins together with "No More Tears" support with toiletries and cleaning products that they give out to the Greater Ithaca community.

Volunteers Mathew Spano, Ana Ortiz, Aleta Weaver and Fran Manzella spend two days per week delivering roughly 18 boxes of food to those in the community who are unable to leave home and to those without homes at all. This community rally saw calls for deliveries more than double to 50 food box requests within a couple of weeks.
So much community spirit and good will, I almost forgot to mention that Matt, in particular, has recently recovered from the covid-19 virus having spent weeks under quarantine order at his home just outside of Ithaca, New York.

Ithaca is a college town in Tompkins County N.Y. 42% of the county is rural and it's economy has been hit particularly hard by the US government shut down of universities and its decision not to allow students to return until the next school year. Ithaca's stores and restaurants depend on the support of a combined 25 thousand students from Cornell University and Ithaca College who departed due to the covid-19 quarantine. Cornell University resides on 745 acres, about one third of the town's land and makes up about three quarters of the town's property value. Cornell's land grant allows the University to avoid paying property taxes for the next 25 years, so residents have to pay the deficit. The unbalance in taxes has been a source of contention in the community for years Unfortunately the Covid-19 pandemic has made it even more difficult to pay these high taxes and make ends meet.

Please don't get me wrong, life in Ithaca is not all bad, there are great perks to living in Ithaca. Residents and visitors alike enjoy Ithaca's wine trails (which are some of the finest in the US), as well as fishing and hiking in its beautiful Finger Lakes. They can also enjoy family picnics in Stewart Park and quiet strolls through the Cornell Botanical Gardens and other great services that Ithaca provides. Most residents are now out of work, and businesses around town are trying hard to survive without the economic support of students and faculty.

The struggle is real, but thanks to kind neighbors like Matthew and the help of solidarity organisations like Mutual Aid Tompkins and their volunteers, life has become a tiny bit easier in Ithaca, N.Y, just a bit.
When I thanked my humble friend for the wonderful things he was doing, he simply said, "I'm just doing my part."

If you would like to help please consider donating to Mutual Aid Tompkins.
We are Ithaca
We Are Ithaca is with Mutual Aid Tompkins and Mutual Aid Tompkins Immediate Needs at Tompkins County, New York.
Tompkins County Workers' Center
The Tompkins County Workers' Center is part of an ever-growing network of Workers' Centers around the country. A project of the Center for Transformative Action, the Workers' Center stands up with all people treated unfairly at work or faced with critical poverty.

This is a CNF Feature Article

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Opening Image Info:

Head/Cover picture by: Franklin Crawford. or Franklin Crawford Facebook page:
Head/Cover image description: Iconic willows awakening to a misty morning and a quite empty space during the Covid-19 lock-down.
Find out more about Stewart Park, Ithaca, NY at:
You can also find other images by the image author at his FaceBook page, tinytowntimes, or at: frankie14850 on his account which has more than 35,000 images on it.

Article Details:

Article written by: K-Lea Clyne
Article edited by: Jonathan Fleming
Article Length: Words count is 1116 from 6379 characters
Released — 9th-June-2020 at 15:45
Modified — Never

Closing Credits from CNF:

  • A Thank You to K-Lea Clyne and Mutual Aid Tompkins:
    Charity Needs Foundation would like to thank K-Lea Clyne, Mathew Spano and Mutual Aid Tompkins for bringing this issue to our attention and providing the material for this article.
    In particular much praise must be heaped on Mathew Spano who did a lot of legwork for CNF and Mutal Aid Tompkins to see that this article made it to publication. Well done Mathew and keep on maintaining the decent human being you undoubtedly are.
    In addition, this is K-Lea's first attempt at producing a Charity Needs Article and we think she has done rather well. Great job K-Lea, great job.


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