Long before COVID-19 ever threatened our health, Serve Your City has worked to keep their community safe and build towards a brighter future in Washington, DC. For more than a decade, SYC has provided life-changing experiences and opportunities for at-promise DC students by giving Black and Brown children access to rowing, swimming, yoga, tennis, tutoring, and other activities often not readily available to children from under-resourced families.
It was because of these lack of opportunities, coupled with a love for his hometown and frustration with the systemic racism experienced by Black and Brown youth in DC and throughout this country, that drove Maurice Cook to form Serve Your City in 2009.
“Our primary focus was creating healthy communities for black and brown youth in DC…building co-curricular activities that broke down barriers for students. So making sure that they had access to things that Black and brown students, historically and currently, don’t have access to…” said Mandolin Restivo, Serve Your City representative.
In March of 2020, Serve Your City became the lead organization for “Ward 6 Mutual Aid,” a partnership of more than three dozen organizations—many of them hyper-local, Black- or Brown-led groups—that came together to share resources and save lives after the COVID-19 pandemic struck the District. Knowing that their community, like many other communities of color across the country, would be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, SYC immediately pivoted to providing mutual aid work as part of their COVID-19 relief efforts. In the first few months of the pandemic, this involved collecting and distributing donations of supplies and PPE to local residents. Over the past year and a half this outreach work has grown into a full-blown operation of SYC members to canvass neighborhoods in the area, to more holistically meet the needs of their community. More specifically, this has entailed community-based SYC members going door-to-door to deliver food to those systemically under-resourced (i.e. the elderly, disabled, and immunocompromised individuals). Alongside these boxes of food supplies, SYC members also hand out informational flyers on COVID-19, vaccine information, and other supplies.
“…our approach is always to do everything as holistically as we can. So when we’re going into a community to do vaccine outreach, we’re also providing supply deliveries as well so that we’re meeting people’s needs,” said Restivo.
Serve Your City members package and distribute food supply boxes.
While conducting their COVID-19 outreach work SYC staff and members have identified many challenges and barriers facing the communities they serve, such as lack of information or misinformation regarding the vaccine, trust issues with the government entities meant to provide support for them, and issues of accessing the vaccine. To combat some of these challenges, like access, SYC members will often help make appointments, fill out the necessary forms, and give rides to elderly residents in need of receiving the vaccine. These types of issues are commonplace among communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and still face many challenges today to getting vaccinated.
Despite all of these obstacles, SYC is committed to providing meaningful and impactful opportunities and resources for their communities. Serve Your City/Ward Six Mutual Aid has produced and provided numerous informational flyers and health education resources to better help their community understand how to avoid COVID-19. As vaccines were developed, SYC/W6MA also created a campaign about the safety and importance of the vaccine, grounded in the understanding that the communities they serve have been most harmed by historical racism within the healthcare system and medical research. SYC/W6MA is also working to equalize access to the vaccine by creating and running their own vaccine hotline.
A Serve Your City member shares an informational COVID-19 vaccine flyer with an unhoused resident during a canvassing event.
Another notable initiative that SYC helms is their “Unhoused Neighbors Project.” Outside of offering resources related to COVID-19, the SYC Unhoused Neighbors project provides weekly supplies for unhoused neighbors, in partnership with the People for Fairness Coalition (PFFC). Together, SYC and PFFC are also advocating for public restrooms, improving city shelters, and affordable housing for unhoused DC residents. This initiative is particularly important as people experiencing homelessness or housing uncertainty are at a far greater risk of contracting COVID-19 given the lack of protective resources available and being in close proximity to others in shelters.
As we reflect on another year of this pandemic, it is important to uplift and highlight the great work that organizations, like Serve Your City, are doing to help and advocate for their community. The progress made this past year, in terms of vaccination rates among communities of color, would not have been possible without this type of direct community outreach and advocacy work. If you would like to help in these efforts, members and donation supplies are always welcome:
“If you live in DC we always need members…members to work with our youth, members to help hand out supplies, members who are interested in our hotline or canvassing with us…
[At Serve Your City] we’re about meeting the community’s needs, full stop, in real-time. So, if you’d like to be involved, there’s lots of ways to do it,” said Restivo.
You can also check out Serve Your City’s website to find out more ways to get involved.
This is a graphic representation of Serve Your City’s Ward 6 Mutual Aid work.