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Ayuda Mutua MKE is making a big impact in Milwaukee's South Side

When COVID-19 hit the United States and people began to lose their livelihoods, a panic set in, and rightfully so. There was, and still is, a lot of uncertainty – where a next meal might be coming from, where to get personal hygiene products, how to physically get to locations that may be able to offer help. Imagine adding a language barrier on top of that.

While stuck at the San Diego airport, Jeanette Martín started thinking about how this pandemic was impacting those in her hometown of Milwaukee, specifically those on the South Side. She put a call out on social media to see if others were thinking about these same things and within 12 hours “60 to 70 individuals from all over Milwaukee… were drawn to this call for mutual aid.” After that call, Martín and six others – Sebastián Daniel, Jeanette Arellano, Gabriela Dorantes, Alida Cardós Whaley, Daisy Romero, and Erick Ledesma – came together to form Ayuda Mutua MKE.

Ayuda Mutua MKE Logo Courtesy of Jeanette Martín

These seven individuals thought about how this pandemic might impact their South Side community in different ways, especially as the number of Coronavirus cases on Milwaukee’s south side continue to grow disproportionately. Not only do they know that there is a significant disconnect in information being conveyed to the Spanish speaking community, but also that there is a distrust of governmental agencies that may provide aid. Ayuda Mutua MKE – Coronavirus was created to “radically include the people that are radically excluded.”

Ayuda Mutua MKE began by first translating information about the coronavirus into Spanish and posting on their social media account. However, they quickly realized that there are additional needs in their community, especially around immediate needs such as food. Martín says, “Food insecurity is very real. And our folks are facing issues like economic struggles and the last thing that we want is for folks to go hungry during times like these.”

St. Patrick’s Church, located at 1115 South 7th St., offered Ayuda Mutua MKE a space to utilize for a window and drive-up food pantry and the response from the community was overwhelming – both in terms of a need for items, but also through donations. Ledesma says that individuals are their biggest donors, dropping off bags of food for distribution and contributing monetarily, but that they’ve also gotten large donations from local supermarkets and other food pantries.

Because of the overwhelming number of donations, and sometimes large donations of single items like tomatoes and bread, Ayuda Mutua MKE has been able to host pop-ups at St. Patrick’s outside of their normal pantry hours. They’ve also been able to share their donations with other organizations that are also doing mutual aid work. Recently, Ayuda Mutua MKE was able to share some of their food resources with Community Bridges in Metcalf Park after they received a large donation of tortillas, rice, and canned goods. This is part of the Mutual Aid umbrella that exists within Milwaukee, the sharing of resources when available for the betterment of our people.

Ayuda Mutua MKE’s window and drive-up food pantry is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 4-7 p.m. for pickups, but they are also offering delivery in the 53215 and 53204 zip codes for those individuals who may feel uncomfortable leaving their home, those people unable to access the pantry on their own, and those who have children.

In just one day, Ayuda Mutua MKE served over 135 people through their window and drive-up pickups and just short of 100 people through their delivery service. In 16 days, they have served over 2,000 families. Ledesma says, “Every person that we can give assistance to is a milestone.”

If you’re interested in signing up to be a delivery driver or volunteering at the pantry, you can send Ayuda Mutua MKE a message on their Facebook page. You can also drop off your own donations to Ayuda Mutua MKE on Mondays and Fridays from 12-3 p.m. at St. Patrick’s and donate monetarily through Venmo using @cosecha13 or by clicking here.

In addition to translating, coordinating pantry drop offs and pick ups, and working with other Mutual Aid organizations in Milwaukee, Ayuda Mutua MKE is fundraising for mini-grants that will be given to undocumented individuals and families as they are currently excluded from receiving stimulus funds in Wisconsin, a huge problem in and of itself. Their goal is to raise $25,000 that will be given out to about 100 families.

Ledesma says that he personally has been “conditioned to do mutual aid work because of the history I have with natural disasters. Being from Puerto Rico and living through these sorts of events so recently… I go home and help with relief for those sorts of events. And what I notice is that there is a common thread – people really, really digging into their humanity and there is always so much empathy that we’re not used to seeing in each other…”