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Bronzeville, Near South Side

Bronzeville’s Mutual Aid Network Building A Community — And A City — Based In Reciprocity

A joint effort from the Bronzeville/Kenwood Mutual Aid network and Sacred Keepers Sustainability Lab — assisted by a host of Chicagoans — wants to make mutual aid a "lifestyle," not just a response to the pandemic.

Volunteers greet people at the Bronzeville/Kenwood Mutual Aid network's food and supply distribution Oct. 2. The distributions are held at Sacred Keepers Sustainability Lab, 4445 S. King Drive.
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BRONZEVILLE — Two Bronzeville organizations have partnered to help neighbors struggling to afford food and basic supplies, while building the neighborhood’s ability to provide for itself after the pandemic ends.

The Sacred Keepers Sustainability Lab created its food distribution hub in response to Minneapolis police killing George Floyd, as some South Side grocers temporarily closed after being looted.

“When COVID happened, [Sacred Keepers] came to a standstill,” said founder Toni Anderson. “Then when George Floyd and the unrest that came with that impacted our communities, and we didn’t have access to food and other goods, my concern … was that the mothers and elders of our community wouldn’t have what they needed.”

The Bronzeville/Kenwood Mutual Aid network, which began organizing in response to the pandemic late in the spring, has supported the hub since August.

Upon meeting, Anderson and aid network members Justin Williams and Cosmos Ray brainstormed how to create a system for neighbors to give what they can and receive what they need.

So far, their collaboration has supported the Reciprocity Hub, which includes two Love Fridges where people can donate food for others to pick up.

The groups also hold a regular food and cleaning supply distribution, which is supported by mutual aid groups and community organizations across the city.

“There’s this connectivity that’s happening despite the distance of COVID … that’s really human and energetic,” Williams said. “Our access to resources is in abundance if we’re connecting ourselves more intentionally.”

The Sustainability Lab, an organization focused on climate and culture, teaches young Chicagoans how to look at their communities as places of “healing for the planet and healing for each other,” Anderson said.

With that mission, the organization’s partnership with the Bronzeville network was a natural one.

Focusing on truly mutual aid differentiates their community assistance model from straight charity, the organizers said.

Charity is organized “for people to show up to take things,” Anderson said. “Some expert somewhere is the source of what that should be and how they should get it.”

Reciprocity is instead “designing an opportunity for the community to give to each other,” she said.

Communities like Bronzeville “have been stripped of so much agency,” Ray said. Reciprocity also reminds locals they can band together and support the community — a lesson that won’t fade when the pandemic does.

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A volunteer holds a sign on King Drive informing drivers of last Friday’s pop-up food and supply distribution.

In that spirit, the Bronzeville collaboration has received plenty of help as they work to supply their network.

Among the citywide contributors who have made the Bronzeville network’s efforts possible:

“It’s a tale of two cities — you see the North Side mutual aid hubs with more resources,” Ray said. “But they’re intentional about redistributing money and actual goods and resources to the South and West sides.”

The “whole Chicago mutual aid network has really mobilized” to support the effort and overcome the city’s disparities, Ray said.

Mutual aid efforts are centered in Black and Indigenous traditions that say “we’re all intrinsically bound together,” Williams said.

He praised the “creativity and adaptability” of mutual aid volunteers and donors across the city for honoring that principle.

The pop-up distributions will run through at least October, providing free groceries, cleaning supplies and hygiene products. The distributions are 1–4 p.m. Fridays at Sacred Keepers, 4445 S. King Drive on the second floor.

The Reciprocity Hub is open noon–4 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays at the same location.

Availability for the distributions and the Reciprocity Hub are subject to change, so organizers encouraged those in need to check the mutual aid Facebook page and Sacred Keepers’ website for updates.

You can request aid from, get involved with and donate to the Bronzeville network here. Donations to Sacred Keepers can be made through PayPal at toni.anderson@sacredkeepers.org.

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