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Mutual aid funds for “solidarity, not charity”

Tamra Benson is an extremely busy University of Maine student –- not just because she’s a graduating senior, in the Honors College or undertaking leadership roles in many different organizations — but also because she made her Honors thesis into an incredibly impactful, beneficial community service project. 

Benson’s thesis explored the interest behind a mutual aid fund — it started out as a curiosity, but as of Saturday, April 22, it is an almost fully realized organization for students in times of need. Black Bear Mutual Aid is getting started to help folks who need anonymous, judgment-free aid. 

Outside of this project, Benson has her hands full: she is a political science student with minors in legal studies and leadership studies, and through the multitude of clubs she’s in, over $1,000 dollars have been raised for the mutual aid fund so far. 

“[UMaine has] a lot of people struggling, and resources that exist here are great, except they leave a lot of people behind and so I want to say create something that would help the people who are left behind — and somebody had to do it,” Benson said.

Mutual aid is defined by the University of Georgia’s School of Social Work as “when everyday people get together to meet each other’s needs.” 

To Benson, this is an incredibly valuable thing that UMaine can offer more of, specifically through a fund that allows people to anonymously access money to help pay for food, purchase medicine, provide transportation and more.

A post on the mutual aid fund’s Instagram page — @blackbearmutualaid — explained the foundation as “solidarity, not charity.” 

The fund, when set up, will be fully available to all students, faculty, and staff for donation or deduction. Plans for the fund are in the final stages, as a bank account is being formed and people are stepping in to help run it. 

“The whole purpose of creating this bond is not just to alleviate economic hardships, but also to change the culture and the systems that we’re living in so that we don’t have as much harm to alleviate in the future,” Benson stated. 

Mutual aid is nothing new — we’ve been participating in it for years with clothing swaps, food pantries and volunteering. 

“It’s important to recognize that this mutual aid fund is not to replace any of the aid systems that exist currently on campus,” Benson explained. “It’s meant to supplement them because these kinds of aid that we have here are really great, and they’re wonderful resources.”

The only issues are sometimes people feel embarrassed due to stigma around asking for help, on-campus resources feel inaccessible or under-advertised, or someone needs money rather than a ride or a meal. 

Benson encouraged anyone in a position to donate or help do so, and discussed the responsibility students have to helping their community. “If you are privileged enough to have resources to give, it can be a responsibility of yours. You can make it a responsibility of yours to give back to the community. It serves you and has provided you with the life that you have and make other people’s lives better in the process,” Benson said. 

Tha Mutual Aid Interest Form Benson started is a great way to reach out, as is the Mutual Aid email address The fund’s organization meets every other Saturday in the Oakes Room.

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