SSD Speaks: One Year Later—Our Successes, Failures, and Future

Boston, MA

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the shores of so-called America back in early March 2020, Boston schools threatened to shut down. While school closures were bad because they affected food access and working families who rely on them for childcare, they were also a necessary measure for ensuring the pandemic didn’t spread. This led to a small group of activists from several different organizations throughout Boston to unite around their shared recognition that something needed to be done. They all agreed to pull together resources for a weekly food distribution which would help feed people
over the course of the pandemic. As of March 16th, one year later, Solidarity Supply Distro (SSD) has fed over 9,000 families across Boston and raised over $130,000 through grassroots fundraising.

Our first ever distribution was on Monday, March 16th, 2020 at Makeshift Boston, a local radical co-working space, of which some of the initial SSD organizers were members.

The first few weeks were tough as the threat of the virus was looming: people raided supermarkets like crazy and it was very hard to get food to give to people. We teamed up with organizers from the Lucy Parsons Center to help set up an online fundraiser for them to help raise funds, but at first, we did not get many donations.

We started to get organized very early on, creating working groups and having 2 “spokes” members from each group represent the working group at a weekly “spokes meeting” to discuss strategy for the following week. The groups consisted of Distribution, Packaging, Collection, Media & Outreach, Volunteer Coordination, and more. I was the first Collections spoke and it may have been the most difficult thing I have ever done.

We had to get food to give people, but we had no money or storage space, and in addition we had to deal with the mass hysteria resulting from the way the government was mishandling the pandemic. The first few weeks, we went to local farmer’s markets as they closed, told the vendors what we were doing and asked if we could have any leftover produce that otherwise would be going bad. While that went well at first, when shoppers stopped going to the markets as the pandemic worsened, they began to close, forcing us to look for other sources. I made a list of every grocery store, supermarket, and restaurant in the greater Boston area I could think of and started calling, one by one, explaining what we were doing and asking if they would donate anything to our cause. Businesses were much more inclined to donate when we mentioned we were working with the Lucy Parsons Center (a registered nonprofit), whereas SSD is an informal organization. While we did not get too many donations from this, it was still enough to keep us just above water. I remember some supermarket managers telling me, “We barely have enough food to fill our shelves, we have no idea when the next shipment is coming, I’m sorry but we have nothing to give you!” It was pure chaos.

Eventually things got calmer as we settled into a rhythm. We came up with a list of items that would go into every distro bag (produce, nonperishables, etc.) to cover everything people might need, as well as an extra list of “Per Request” items like milk, eggs, meat, etc. that people could ask for if they needed them. Our team of Collections drivers would go to Costco, BJs, etc. and purchase the items in bulk to save money. Every Saturday, our Packaging team would meet up at Makeshift to package the grocery bags. Then, every Monday afternoon, we would open our doors to the public and give them out by the dozen.

This process still goes on weekly — we have never missed a week of distribution. We also have no plans to stop any time soon, no matter what.

We were still struggling to figure out our process when George Floyd was violently murdered by police in Minneapolis. The protests began nationwide, including right here in Boston, and they lasted for many powerful months. Understanding that people at protests and marches need to stay hydrated and fed, SSD began to offer protest distributions, handing out granola bars, water bottles, masks, hand sanitizer, etc. at the various protests and demonstrations happening across the city. Then in very early June, a twitter thread about the Minnesota Bail Fund went viral, explaining that the bail fund had too many donations and recommended donors instead use their funds to support other local efforts doing mutual aid work during the COVID-19 pandemic and uprising, in which our fundraiser was specifically linked. Within a week, we raised over $50,000 and we were finally able to breathe.

With those extra funds, we were able to start doing more. Along with our Monday distributions, we now offer smaller distributions on Fridays, providing no-cook bags (filled with pre-made food, snacks, supplies, toiletries, etc.) to the unhoused community which has developed around the Boston Medical Center’s methadone clinic and the nearby Suffolk County House of Corrections. This area has been persecuted over the past two years in “Operation Clean Sweep.” This collection of mass arrests resulted in the destruction of the houseless population’s property and belongings (including mobility aids), justified often based on the inability to provide identification or police claims of “seeing needles.”

In addition to the no-cook distribution, we have teamed up with the Lucy Parsons Center again and For the People – Boston to host a Free Store For the People! The Lucy Parsons Center had been holding free stores—offering clothing, shoes, books, small appliances, etc. for free to the community—for several months before the pandemic hit, but had suspended that program once the city shut down, for health and safety concerns. When SSD took over operating the free stores, it felt like a natural transition because of our new experience with distribution work! On November 9th, 2020, we held our first ever Free Store as SSD right outside the Lucy Parsons Center. We made the decision to hold the event outside due to COVID transmission concerns, and it’s been an insane success. We’ve continued to have monthly Free Stores in the same location at the same time for 4 months now (the second Sunday of every month from 12-3pm), and they’ve only gotten more and more organized. Folks from across the greater Boston area have reached out and collectively donated 2 storage units full of donations (which is constantly being rotated in stock)—after one month’s Free Store, the storage units seem to fill up immediately. We are able to provide people with anything they may need—whether it be an outfit for an interview, clothes for their children, toiletries, face masks, shoes, blankets, you name it.

COVID safety protocols are something we take very seriously. We have taken many precautions to minimize the risk for our volunteers and for our communities, in both our Free Store events and grocery distributions, including quarantining donations and strict mask- and glove-use policies (in addition to regular hand-washing). We enforce 6-foot separation in our lines and require proper mask-usage of all volunteers and community members, to keep everyone safe through this challenging time. And it’s been working—even when COVID-19 numbers were highest in Boston, we never had any issues around our space.

As with any grassroots program, fundraising for our work is incredibly difficult. Our previous fundraiser recently met its massive goal of $120,000. But with expenses of roughly $2,000 / week (all of which is spent exclusively on our distribution work and/or to assist MakeShift Boston with rent) and tapering monthly donations, we will be out of funds by mid-2021. We therefore decided to make a new fundraiser for the New Year, as well as a public spreadsheet which tracks our donations and spending, to maintain total transparency for our donors. There have been several fundraising efforts to raise us money, to which we are so very grateful, but unfortunately, with our consistent spending and decreasing donations, we’re losing funds fast.

In addition to our mutual aid work, we see political education to be vitally important. Any charity could just hand people free food and call it a day, but leftists and revolutionaries must go above and beyond that if we want this work to be politically meaningful. That means conversing with the community and using the relationships we built to get the people organized to fight for (and win) a better world. It is especially obvious during this pandemic that capitalism doesn’t serve us – instead, we have to support each other and fight for revolution.

We started a Political Development working group in SSD to ensure our politics do not get lost in our day-to-day work. The Political Development working group is primarily responsible for helping drive and develop SSD’s political orientation and strategy. Currently they’re doing that through two principal avenues: our SICA (Social Investigation and Class Analysis) campaign and our bi-weekly study group.

The SICA campaign is designed for us to build a better understanding of the objective political conditions of the people we serve—what communities they come from, their employment and housing status (and what problems they’re facing therein), whether they’re facing any immediate risk factors such as eviction, and whether they’ve organized their fellow tenants. We do so via a survey that we fill out by talking to distro attendees at every other week’s distro and then collate into an anonymized spreadsheet we can use to get a broad picture of what people are going through (while holding onto the physical forms so we can follow up with people who need personal help).

The study group is run every other Friday at 6 by the working group’s spokes reps, with readings loosely organized around each of SSD’s points of unity. We pull these readings from the wide history of revolutionary theory and practice, and try to use them to critically discuss how we’re conducting our work, what we can do better, and what we can learn from those who’ve come before us! They’re open to all, near and far community members, although SSD members are especially encouraged to attend.

In addition, the Political Development working group also occasionally drafts political statements for SSD, most often on events out in the world that are relevant to our practice or which we feel are especially politically urgent for us to communicate our line on. Those are generally written by a member of this committee and submitted to the broader committee and the Spokes Council for review before publishing.

Solidarity Supply Distro has grown a lot since our founding back in March, and we do not plan on stopping anytime soon, vaccine or not! We started as an org that would help for as long as the pandemic was around, but we have decided that pandemic or not, people will always be hungry and in need of assistance under this capitalist regime. If you would like to start your own SSD in your local city, feel free to reach out at bostonsolidaritysupplydistro@protonmail.com or DM us on Instagram/Facebook at @SolidaritySupplyDistro or Twitter at @BostonDistro. If you would like to help our efforts to assist us in feeding the people of Boston, please donate here: bit.ly/SSD2021

Feed the people! Serve the workers! Smash capitalism! ​

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