issue #88 - the one about mutual aid
Abigail Koffler on what she's learned from volunteering at a local free fridge
I’m about to turn it over to Abigail, who has such an important message to share today. But before I do, I wanted to say hi and a big thanks to your support of the amazing curators and guest editors that have kept this newsletter going while I focus writing my second book. I did want to share that I’ll be emerging from writing hibernation to interview Devon Daniels on Tuesday at her virtual book launch! I absolutely loved Meet You In The Middle, and hope you can join us for the event.
Raise your hand if you've asked yourself "what day is it again" recently? I've definitely struggled with distinguishing Tuesday from Wednesday but I always know when it's Thursday. There's a reason for that—every Thursday afternoon, one of my best friends and I walk 25 minutes to our local free fridge, an initiative of North Brooklyn Mutual Aid. The fridge functions with the work of dozens of volunteers, who take weekly shifts, collect donations from restaurants and grocery stores, and spread the word to community members in need.
My weekly shift looks like this: Before I leave, I look around my kitchen for anything to donate. This includes disposable utensils from takeout orders, a stray can of soup or carefully labeled and dated fresh food (different fridges have different guidelines for donations, most are active on Instagram). My friend and I trade off bringing cleaning supplies. We arrive, put away our donations, wipe down the fridge and pantry cabinet, review and organize the food. We'll throw out anything that's no longer fresh and arrange items to be easier to find. Sometimes, we chat with someone using the fridge, helping them find something they'd like. It takes a little over an hour, most of which is the walk there and back (perfect time to gossip and catch up).
Shortly after the coup, I was on a call with other fridge volunteers. One of the project coordinators spoke up, "We're essentially coup proofing North Brooklyn." I'm all for a functioning democracy (and hopeful and supportive of the Biden-Harris Administration), but I totally got what he meant. There is something special about the tangible and immediate work that Mutual Aid groups can do. Since the pandemic began, the Mutual Aid Network has created compost programs after the city suspended collection, an initiative to distribute hygiene kits, a support program for unhoused people, a device drive, free stores, two fridges, and more. The latest initiative will help community members navigate the confusing vaccine enrollment process.
There's so much uncertainty about the next year. Will I get to see my grandparents or attend my cousin's wedding? Will I finally see my students in person? Can I host an in person happy hour for my newsletter? What I do know for sure is that my neighbors (and millions of others in this country) are hungry and this fridge helps feed them.
I'm so honored to participate in the work of mutual aid. It's been an undeniable bright spot away from Twitter, emails, and other turmoil and it's something I plan to stay involved with long term. If you're looking to feel more connected to your community and put your skills to work (and you have skills that are needed, I promise), google "your city" mutual aid. I can't recommend it enough.
What we read this week
The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio - is unlike anything I've ever read on immigration. Karla Cornejo Villavicencio shares the stories of undocumented workers on the frontlines of major events, from 9/11 to Hurricane Sandy, and weaves their stories and traumas with her own. She also takes extreme care to protect her sources and even destroyed all of her notes for the project after a legal review. It's a book you'll read in one sitting and it will absolutely stay with you.
The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker - This is the first book I read in 2021 and I already know it will be one of my favorites. It's a story of female friendship, making art, and secrets we keep and you won't be able to put it down.
The Source of Self Regard by Toni Morrison - can do wrong and this classic piece of work is such a genius analysis of society and our current state.
All The Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister - I'm single—and have been for most of my life. While I definitely want to get married and have kids in the future, I think it's important to celebrate my singledom—and learn about the women who have paved the way for my fellow single ladies and I. (Because hundreds of years ago, single women were literally excommunicated from their families as pariahs—not just annoyingly asked about their dating lives by nosy Aunt Nellie). All The Single Ladies is an excellent and entertaining history of single women in America—and I highly recommend it for everyone, no matter your relationship status.
If I Tell You The Truth by Jasmin Kaur - I shared my review of the book here, (full disclosure - it was a sponsorship with HarperCollins and Brown Girl Magazine). But I’d be remiss to not share it again because IT IS JUST THAT GOOD. Kaur masterfully blends illustrations, poetry, and prose to tell a story that makes you look at the world differently, and hopefully makes us all a little more compassionate. It’s a book I’m still thinking about months later, and I need more people to read it so we can discuss it!
A little background - I won’t accept a book sponsorship until I’ve read the book first and it’s the kind of book I would share on my feed to begin with. Your trust in my recommendations comes first, and I would never promote something I didn’t truly love.
The Top 5
In Defense of Lauren Wolfe (Jill Filipovic)
The True Cost of Convenience (Eater)
“No Choice But To Do It": Why Women Go To Prison (The New Republic)
The Catch Up
States eye allowing concealed carry of guns without a permit (Associated Press)
How US political partisanship serves moderation in the end (Financial Times)
How Riz Ahmed Stretches Culture (The Juggernaut)
Biden sets his sights on China (Axios)
“I Am My Own Heroine” How Marie Bashkirtseff Rewrote the Route to Fame (The Public Domaine Review)
How Ben & Jerry’s Perfected the Delicate Recipe for Corporate Activism (Bloomberg BusinessWeek)
To Move Forward, We Need to Redefine 'Normal' (Marie Claire)
Who Is Behind the Thwarted Attacks on Riyadh? (The Dispatch)
Things we love this week
I got the super popular Girlfriend Paloma Bra during a black Friday sale and I cannot stop wearing it. It's so comfortable and practical under a sweatshirt or on it's own for a yoga flow in my living room.
Omsom's Southeast Asian Sampler Trio is making dinner time so much more exciting. The beautifully designed kit comes with sauces and recipes to make dishes like larb, sisig, and lemongrass bbq. You can use any proteins (mushrooms are great in the larb) and the meals come together quickly with ingredients from the grocery store. Omsom also offers East Asian kits that I'm dying to try and it was founded by Vanessa and Kim Pham, sisters who launched during the pandemic.
Finally found a highlighter that doesn't make my pen ink run! This is the best highlighter I've EVER bought.
Apparis Bold As F*ck Candle - I saw this candle on Shopbop and immediately ordered it. A black candle with a hot pink 'Bold As F*ck' label, it's an inspiring anthem—and looks cute at my bedside. I light it every morning, and the notes of basil and ginger help me start off my day right.
Take care of yourself, and please share #5SmartReads if you’re enjoying them!