Credit: Joel Muniz / Unsplash

“Hard Times” isn’t just a 19th century Charles Dickens novel (or a 1995 album by one of my fave bands, Laughing Hyenas). The unfortunate events of the past few years have put a definite strain on resources for certain people, and with a long winter ahead, Chicagoans are finding themselves turning to each other for support.

Mutual aid networks are community-based organizations that exist for their members to benefit from each other’s resources, which can result in food, sheltering, or even financial support for the entirety of the group. It’s a concept that became popular in Chicago around the turn of the 20th century, especially for underserved populations dealing with need. Groups of immigrants banded together to make “mutual benefit societies” to assist their countrymen in meeting the challenges of living in a diverse American city.

And recently, mutual aid networks have come back into the spotlight as our communities deal with the realities of living during a pandemic. Groups of neighbors all over the city have been banding together to deliver food, cleaning supplies, and PPE to those in need by throwing outdoor events or making financial donations to existing neighborhood charities. I recently started supporting one such project, The Love Fridge Chicago, a collective that set up community-sustained, outdoor refrigerators and pantries where anyone can go to receive (or donate) completely free food and supplies. The fridges are on the property of cooperating businesses and organizations, and many are available for the public to visit 24/7. There are currently 17 locations where you can find a fridge, which range from inside the Dill Pickle Food Co-Op in Logan Square to on the grounds of Back of the Yards’s Star Farm.

And in the spirit of mutual aid, you should know about the We Keep Us Warm community winter supply drive currently underway to benefit The Love Fridge, the South Side Help Center, Nita’s Love Train, and AbundantChiCollective. Donations of food and winter supplies, as well as money, will be given to the four organizations to support their efforts in helping neighbors this season. You can donate new or gently used winter coats, hats, gloves, and non-perishable food supplies like baby formula, noodles, and more in person at seven locations (including Cafe Mustache and Pilsen Arts & Community House). More information is at this Instagram post. Those who can’t travel to donate can also purchase supplies via the group’s Amazon wishlist or donate money by Venmo (@We_Keep_Us_Warm). The drive continues through December 10.

Cozy listens and reads for the weekend:

  • Chicago musician Daniel Knox just released a new single.
  • A beautiful essay by Jeffery Renard Allen about his mother, a train crash near Michael Reese Hospital, and living together and alone, at Granta.
  • Steve Earle started a broadcast-from-home series on YouTube, talking about his vast guitar collection. Recommended for guitar enthusiasts.
  • You might need some ideas for your leftovers, so turn to the Nicole Di Bona Peterson Collection of Advertising Cookbooks at the online archives of the Duke University Libraries.
  • And while you’re hanging out, why don’t you nominate some of your favorite spots and people for our Best of Chicago issue? Nominations are accepted until Tuesday 12/8.

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