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The Path to Mutual Aid

If you wrote to me today, you would have received my “Sabbath” message. Today is Monday, a day that I usually rest from ministry but after I received my first text of the day, I knew what I needed to talk with you about this month.

Every other Monday begins with a text from the “Food for your Neighbors” program at the Farmer’s Market asking me how many boxes of fresh vegetables and fruit I need to be delivered on Saturday morning for people experiencing food insecurity. Marie Higgins, the volunteer who heads up the program, and I have been in contact for two or three years. At first, I helped connect her with drivers at Granite Peak who could deliver fifteen or so boxes to a place in Prescott Valley where they would be picked up by families in need. With the dissolution of Keep Prescott Together, the destinations for boxes also became difficult and we had to start over. Today, I asked for 7 boxes. That was two more than the previous delivery. This work makes me very proud to be your minister!

Sometimes, if I receive names too late to submit for a box, I go to the Farmer’s Market and receive $25 in coupons and I fill the box for them with what I imagine they might need. This has been an amazing experience. All of it. Probably the most important learning experience has been doing the shopping.

When I ask for the coupons, the Farmer’s Market volunteers assume that I need assistance. That made me aware of my jewelry and embroidered jacket and favorite purse. Did they think that I was faking it? I deliberately tried not to tell them that I was a minister picking up food for someone else. It was hard to be that person who received assistance. This model of giving is hard for those who receive it. I feel good about the number of boxes rising and I dream a bigger dream called “Mutual Aid.”

Mutual aid is not charity, but the building and continuing of new social relations where people give what they can and get what they need. Mutual aid is an idea and practice that is based on the principles of direct action, cooperation, mutual understanding, and solidarity.

Mutual aid recognizes that we are all in need and that we all have something to give and demonstrates the reciprocity of the interconnected web of life. We experienced mutual aid when we lived in a farming village in Japan. When our roof replacement cost a small fortune, we opened ourselves to receiving. Our neighbors left bags of vegetables on our doorstep. The grocers in the village at the foot of the mountain asked us if we could use imperfect apples to make sauce or juice. We only bought cheese that had been marked down because it was on the edge of spoiling. I disliked sweet potatoes, one of the main crops of our village, and that first winter we received two gunny sacks full of them. I learned to make sweet potato soups and pies. To reciprocate, we invited our neighbors to sit by our sturdy Wisconsin-made wood -burning stove in our living room and fixed them persimmon pudding made from the persimmons that grew on the edge of our land. In the summer, we made plum wine to share.

What would that look like here? When people join our congregation, we talk of giving time, talent, and treasure. I wonder if it would be good to talk about the “r” of receiving. For all that you have given, could you receive a ride to our services, boxes of vegetables to hold you through when you had unexpected taxes to pay, or a job that fizzled unexpectedly? I hope that we begin this transformation by entering into the reciprocity of mutual aid. Let us remember our times of need. Let us recognize our current needs along with what we can give. I believe that reciprocity is an essential element of a beloved community.

In the meantime, the food pantry needs your support. Please donate to the Minister’s Benevolence Fund, from which we buy food for the pantry, and fill our entryway basket on Sunday or during the week with the targeted food donations announced in the Weekly Peak. If you go to Costco, consider getting an extra bag of toilet paper!

If you get huge bags of rice and beans, consider giving us a part of that bounty. I also want you to let me know if you’d like to receive from our food pantry. I can arrange that. Let us dream of a place where people in fancy cowboy boots are unashamed to pick up needed goods knowing that the gifts they give of time to our community are received in return.

This transformation is one of my wildest dreams for Granite Peak. What is yours? At the end of August, Rev. Sarah Gibb-Milspaugh will be coming to facilitate a conversation about our dreams. Let’s prepare!


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