Since her freshman year, Destiny Shembo witnessed litter around Temple University’s Main Campus pile up from students who threw disruptive parties.
“We noticed that our influence as students and as an institution in North Philly has a large impact, some positives, but honestly we see a lot of negatives,” said Shembo, a junior Africology and African American studies and Spanish major.
Shembo and two of her friends, Jane Shea Mannard, a junior early childhood education major, and Alanis Santiago-Comas, a junior bioengineering major, created a mutual aid organization. The program, called Love Your Neighbor Philly, started in January and collects donations for community organizations and supplies funds to people in Philadelphia who are struggling to pay rent, food or utility bills.
Mutual aid organizations provide resources, like food or monetary donations, to community members who need assistance or aid. Mostly run by volunteers, these organizations are different in each community, as they are specific in their need-based aid, Vice reported.
Since June 2020, the team has hosted a total of four drives, including tampon and pad drives, food drives, coat drives and toy drives, that they organized together and advertised by posting flyers on their Instagram.
When more than 50 people donated to their first drive, the team realized they could increase their reach, which is what inspired them to start Love Your Neighbor Philly, Shembo said.
After collecting donations, the team packs up the donated food and drives it to community fridges. They use the Venmo donations to go to grocery stores and purchase food to add to the community fridges, Mannard said.
Love Your Neighbor Philly hosted a food drive for the Germantown Community Fridge, community-run outdoor fridge that provides free food, on Feb. 10. at the Bell Tower from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.
The organization received $650 in monetary donations and around $150 worth of food donations, which were split between the Germantown Community Fridges, located on Armat Street between Germantown Avenue and Greene Street and High Street near Germantown Avenue.
Janelle Suchocki-Alonso, the captain of the High Street fridge, said mutual aid organizations are useful because people can donate or collect goods on their own time and remain anonymous if they wish.
“It’s just really, I think, empowering in that way that it’s on your own terms,” Suchocki-Alanso said. “So many times people are at the whim of other people when they are receiving items and this kind of lets them be in control of it.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated one in five Philadelphians suffered from food insecurity, which is defined as having unreliable or irregular access to food, the Philadelphia Citizen reported.
Julia Hall, a junior environmental science major, volunteers by taking the organizations’ monetary donations and purchasing food, like pasta, frozen meals, produce and canned goods for community fridges. She also donates food or funds when she’s able to, she added.
“Going to school in Philly, through Temple being in a gentrified area, you should try and give back as much as you can to that community,” Hall said.
The team feels supporting the neighborhood students live in is important, even if it’s only during a couple of semesters or for a few years, Santiago-Comas said.
“We definitely think that Temple students need to take more accountability and responsibility to provide to the community that we are taking from every single day,” she added.
The team wants to expand by raising funds for mental health services and helping people who are uninsured or can’t afford therapy and host meditation and yoga sessions in public once people feel comfortable, Shembo said.
“We really want to nurture like, the full aspect of humanity, not just finances and food, but mental health too,” she added. “That’s something that’s extremely underrated that none of us really want to see go flying under the radar with this discussion.”
The team is excited about the turnout they’ve seen and are hopeful the organization will grow, Mannard said.
“We’ve honestly gone in with low expectations just because we are starting, so we know that we’re not reaching a large number of people yet, but everytime we have exceeded our expectations and hope to have continued success,” she added.