Bed-Stuy Strong was launched as the Coronavirus lockdown went into effect in New York in March 2020. It started with a hand-made sign posted by founder Sarah Mathews calling on neighbors in her Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant to “stay connected and care for each other as a community” by joining a remote communication platform she had created using Slack. BedStud-Strong quickly evolved into a mutual-aid network focused on food security during the lockdown: text-based automation coded by volunteers supported other volunteers who shopped for and delivered food to assist vulnerable families needing groceries. The funds to buy the groceries came from charitable donations by volunteers and other contributors. Since the early days of the pandemic, it has evolved further to include a range of solidarity-based, community organizing activities, relying on communications technology, volunteer labor and charitable donations.
Bed-Stuy Strong is, in and of itself, a response to the Coronavirus pandemic, driven by an ethic of neighbors helping each other during a crisis, in a neighborhood that has become increasingly divided by the economic pressures of gentrification. At a time when individuals were completely isolated, it relied on contemporary remote communication technology, along with traditional means such as flyers and telephone, to connect individuals in the community across social divisions.
Theory of Change
Virtual organizing through a mutual aid platform within a socio-economically and racially diverse neighborhood can reduce racial and economic divides, increase solidarity and facilitate social unity.
Bed-Stuy Strong mobilizes volunteers who identify families in need and who source and deliver food and other essential items to them, paid for by charitable contributions. It also serves as a platform for other volunteer-based initiatives, such as Bed-Stuy Strong Spaces, which is countering some of the negative impacts of gentrification by supporting the preservation and development of community-owned businesses, cooperatives, social enterprises and homes, and actively resisting development take-over through mapping, research, advocacy, and organizing. Other activities include a get-out-the-vote drive during the 2020 national elections and a solidarity-based letter-writing initiative to community members currently incarcerated.
In its first year of operations, Bed-Stuy Strong has delivered one week’s worth of groceries to 22,000 people, as well as other items, such as art kits, children’s books, bike helmets, and cleaning and hygiene supplies. The majority of the deliveries go to elderly people, and nearly every household has a child, elder, disabled or immunocompromised family member. The initial food security initiative developed as an emergency response to the Coronavirus pandemic has expanded into a variety of other solidarity-based initiatives.