At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic a social media group came together to help people network and provide food and supplies for those in need and, a year later, it is still going strong.

Grand Junction Mutual Aid was formed as a Facebook group in March 2020 by local activist Jacob Richards. The idea was people could share food, supplies and support to others in the group who were struggling. It grew quickly and they started a weekly distribution event every Tuesday to give out needed items.

Tuesday, as they had for the past year, volunteers with Grand Junction Mutual Aid and Mutual Aid Partners, were giving out food, water and even haircuts to local people.

Mutual Aid Partners Executive Director Stephania Vasconez thanked the volunteers for their willingness to give back and said they are the key to the group’s success.

“People have been so incredible,” Vasconez said. “Everybody wants to work together. Everybody wants to help each other and it’s just really cool and really beautiful. There’s evil in the world, but there’s so much good in people and such beauty in people wanting to give back.”

The past year, Vasconez said, has shown the need for a flexible and responsive group within the community that provides assistance to people in need. She said they’ve been able to come up with creative programs that fill needs in the community that were not being addressed. Grand Junction Mutual Aid and Mutual Aid Partners is a 501(c)3 group formed to give the group a formal structure and allow it to fundraise.

Vasconez highlighted a grocery rescue program as one innovative step to get food to people in need. She said there are times when local organizations would throw away food because of to lack of storage space and Mutual Aid has been able to distribute it rather than having it be discarded.

“We’re continuing to fill this gap, which we have filled because of the pandemic, but has been there all along,” Vasconez said. “I think one thing that has been really cool is the grocery rescue stuff. There is so much food that was getting thrown away and being able to connect with those resources and say, ‘You don’t need to throw this in the garbage.’”

Richard Crespin, who was volunteering at Tuesday’s event, said he got involved with Mutual Aid soon after it started to help with logistics. He said it was great to see people in the community working together to get the word out and help those in the community in need.

“When the need for a movement in the community arises, it’s good to use your network to kind of make everything come together,” Crespin said. “That’s kind of the heart of Mutual Aid is everybody’s network working in unison. It’s not a charity or a handout, it’s more perpetual than that.”

Over the last year Crespin said he’s seen hundreds of people of all walks of life get the help they needed through Mutual Aid. Often, he said, those who had used the group when they needed it would turn around and volunteer with the group afterward.

“I’ve seen a lot of people come through and be able to provide the simple things for them and then they want to help out the next week because they felt that presence, that Mutual Aid presence,” Crespin said. “They took it home with them and they came back and want to help out themselves. That’s what keeps a movement and community going.”

Over the past year these distribution events have had an incredible impact with more than 150,000 pounds of food given to around 10,000 people and families in Grand Junction, according to a release from Mutual Aid Partners. Going forward both Vasconez and Crespin said they believe the group will evolve and change as the needs within the community change.

“I think that’s what’s really cool about this is it’s not just narrow tracked,” Crespin said. “It’s very fluid and we can adapt and provide the community with needs that we don’t even know we need yet.”

Grand Junction Mutual Aid holds its weekly distribution events Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the parking lot of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Grand Valley.