P’Heights organizer launches local mutual aid network to help neighbors in need

crystal hudson
Prospect Heights community organizer Crystal Hudson has launched a local mutual aid network.
Crystal Hudson

A Prospect Heights do-gooder has launched a volunteer support network for local seniors and other people in need of a helping hand, saying she wanted to channel goodwill in the neighborhood toward helping local oldsters struggling during the viral coronavirus outbreak.

“There’s a strong sense of community that folks feel as things become more localized,” said Crystal Hudson.

Mutual aid groups, which help distribute much-needed resources between neighbors, have become a popular mechanism for communities to support themselves as the COVID-19 pandemic has brought most of the economy to a standstill, said Hudson.

“I think there’s a strong sense of community in neighborhoods, and a lack of leadership in government,” she said. “[Mutual aid] was an effort that had the foresight to come out the gate pretty quickly.”

Largely inspired by her own story of caring for her mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease, Hudson and a handful of other organizers launched the group on the messaging app WhatsApp, allowing volunteers to connect with needy neighbors to help with tasks such as grocery shopping and pharmacy pickups.

“I was acutely aware of the importance of staying home and being able to keep her healthy, and then thought about all of the other seniors in the area that might not have younger folks helping them,” she said.

Nearly a month after they began their altruistic effort, the group now boasts over 130 members, according to Hudson, who helps match volunteers with nearby tasks in an effort to reduce travel distances. 

They’ve put together a free spreadsheet of helpful information for would-be donors, such as a list of food pantries and soup kitchens, small business support, and educational resources.

Every week, the group also hosts community calls with experts, such as an employment attorney, a mental health social worker, and housing advocates.

One 87-year-old Clinton Hill resident said that the group paired her with a younger couple to bring her groceries, and said she has been delighted to have people lend her a hand so she doesn’t have to risk contracting the virus.

“It’s tremendously helpful, they’re a godsend,” said Adina Johnson. “I was a very active person and being shut in like this is hard.”

Johnson said that her newly-found helpers take the necessary precautions when dropping off deliveries to her, but always make sure to take some time for a bit of friendly conversation. 

“They come all masked and with gloves and they leave it at the door and we chat for a few minutes and see how everything is going,” she said. 

Johnson is just one of several people Hudson’s effort has been able to support and the organizer hopes that connections like these will last past the pandemic and that the neighborhood will remain more connected as a result. 

“What I would love to see after all of this, is to keep the buddy system specifically for seniors as an evergreen program that lives beyond this pandemic where neighbors just have a friendly face or voice to check in on them,” Hudson said. 

Anyone looking to get in touch with the Prospect Heights mutual aid network can sign up here or reach out via email at [email protected] or at (732) 707–6027. For a citywide database of mutual aid groups go to www.mutualaid.nyc.