Solidarity not Charity! Empowering Local Communities for Disaster Relief during COVID-19 through Grassroots Support

Tiffany Knearem, Jeongwon Jo, Oluwafunke Alliyu, John M. Carroll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The COVID-19 pandemic brought wide-ranging, unanticipated societal changes as communities rushed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. In response, mutual aid groups bloomed online across the United States to fill in the gaps in social services and help local communities cope with infrastructural breakdowns. Unlike many previous disasters, the long-haul nature of COVID-19 necessitates sustained disaster relief efforts. In this paper, we conducted an interview study with online mutual aid group administrators to understand how groups facilitated disaster relief, and how disaster relief initiatives developed and maintained over the course of the first year of COVID-19. Our findings suggest that the groups were crucial sources of community-based support for immediate needs, innovated long-term solutions for chronic community issues and grew into a vehicle for justice-centered work. Our insights shed light on the strength of mutual aid as a community capacity that can support communities to collectively be more prepared for future long-haul disasters than they were with COVID-19.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Computer Science

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