In order to maintain its long-term operations, FIG has instituted strategic breaks from outward-facing work, which Chou Tsun An refers to as “chrysalises.” Collective members use this time to reflect on past work and strategize how to make the most meaningful impact in the future. Chou Tsun An doesn’t believe in the demand to be constantly working. She says the organization survived throughout the pandemic, a time when many members struggled with their own restaurants, because they took moments to study how FIG can continue its influence once things return to something like normal.
Some mutual aid events are returning—while mindful of the city’s safety guidelines, of course. The mutual aid group Food With Fam recently hosted a food distribution event outside Locals BKNY in Fort Greene. The previous night, they’d held a gratitude dinner featuring seared scallops and whole branzino for its volunteers. Unlike other mutual aid groups, which tend to focus on select neighborhoods, Food With Fam holds distributions across the five boroughs. They go where they’re needed.
I arrived at Locals BKNY two hours before the distribution was set to begin at 2 p.m. They planned to set up on the sidewalk in front of Locals, but a COVID vaccination bus had beaten them to the spot, so they moved to the median across the street. On a pair of white folding tables, they set out boxes of fresh carrots, onions, sweet potatoes, thyme, pears, eggs, spinach, and beans. A half hour before the event, a line had already formed.
Many people in line hadn’t known about the distribution until they stumbled upon it. Kaylan Gray, a self-taught baker and mother of two, has periodically relied on food assistance from mutual aid groups to help her family throughout the pandemic. The first time she received groceries, she cried. Before that, she “didn’t think anyone cared about people like me,” she told me as we stood in line. Charmaine Breckette, a hair stylist, told me that, although it was her first time at a Food With Fam event, she sometimes received similar forms of grocery assistance two times a week. Most of the people I spoke to that afternoon lived in the neighborhood; they included retirees, childcare workers, college students. Talking to them reminded me of making grocery calls back in January for Brooklyn Shows Love. The calls were often monotonous—I read from a list of items, marked yes or no regarding the recipient’s request—but at the end, also deeply personal, when the community member thanked us or mentioned how grateful they were for the groceries.