RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Six months into the pandemic, families still have a tough time putting food on the table. Some families may qualify for Federal or State assistance, not all, and that’s where “Richmond Mutual Aid” comes in.
They trying to fill in the gaps preventing everyday people from falling through the cracks. The group works out of a tiny space at Lamplighter Coffee on Summit St.
“We’ve been serving hundreds of people weekly for the past six months," said Tamanna Sohal, one of the volunteers. "We’ve been supplying free groceries, items for child care, and taking care of babies, books, entertainment everything like that.”
Since 2018, they’ve helped about 10 thousand people with food, a thousand with grant money to pay bills.
“We have noticed a huge uptick in requests for supple drive materials, or mini-grants around the first of each month. Rent is coming up, bills and folks are forced into crisis mode, every month," said Sohal.
Richmond is at the forefront of this health and housing crisis.
According to the most recent research by Eviction Lab, Richmond has the second-highest eviction rate in the country; it’s one of five Virginia cities in the top ten.
"The fact is, people have always had this need, the pandemic has just made it more clear,” said Sohal.
Receiving any type of assistance starts with a phone call to the Mutual Aid hotline. Through a series of questions, volunteers assess the need and prioritize the most marginalized members of the community. Ayanna Ogaldez is also a volunteer.
“We do an average of 25-30 deliveries a day. So this is about a quarter of what we see throughout today," said Ogaldez.
All of the food on the shelves are packed up and delivered throughout Richmond and surrounding areas.
In reality, the shelves don’t stay stock for long.
“It will probably be gone within the next 1-2 days,” said Ogaldez.
Aside from food, volunteers are trying to leverage their online presence to get other items directly to those in need. Often making very specific requests and social media does the rest.
“At the same time that someone needs a mattress or a dresser, someone else’s kid may have just moved out with an extra mattress or a dresser and they follow us, so it’s all about trying to connect those dots," said Sohal.
NBC12 acknowledges the work being done and we wanted to help out with our “Acts of kindness.” $300 dollars in cash to buy more food to stock the shelves and a $50 dollar gift card that can go directly to a family in need.
At this point, we all want the pandemic to be over, that feeling is mutual. But when it’s over, these volunteers will be providing aid for months and years to come in a new, and much larger space.
“We want to make sure that we can continue this work as far as the pandemic goes, and beyond the pandemic too,” says Sohal.
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