Bozeman Mutual Aid

Donations to Bozeman Mutual Aid are shown in this provided photo. 

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In the past month, a local mutual aid group, in tandem with the Human Resource Development Council and other local nonprofit agencies, has helped put multiple families with nowhere else to go into hotel rooms.

Bozeman Mutual Aid, a volunteer-run group formed by five Bozeman residents, helps connect people who need assistance to organizations like Love Inc. and HRDC. The group also helps get donated groceries and household supplies to people who aren’t otherwise able to get those essentials and operates a community fund to help those in need fill prescriptions and pay rent.

“Things are really looking different day by day and we’re able to, in real time, assess community needs and respond to them and do so in a way that is genuinely from the community,” said Yimei Shao, one of the group’s organizers. “Our community needs list is generated from both individuals and these various community organizations, and then supplied by people in Bozeman.”

In addition to Shao, the five main organizers of the aid group are Jeffrey Strock, Nic Acker, Vasu Sojitra and Zoe Unruh.

Using only money donated to the community fund, the group was able to find temporary housing for two people. 

“Coming off of the Warming Center closing, a homeless camp organically cropped up in town,” Shao said.

The group helped provide tents, sleeping bags and other essentials to the camp.

The group also keeps a community needs list of items to donate to either individuals or to other organizations helping Bozeman’s vulnerable population weather the virus. The list is ever-changing, but Strock said one thing that is in higher demand than before are things like tablets and laptops for kids to do school work on and for adults to use to work.

“It’s expanded so much from what we originally saw it as,” Strock said. “We’re connecting volunteers to tutor opportunities … We’ve connected people who are requesting aid navigating social services to people that know how to navigate that world.”

Bozeman Mutual Aid recently launched a website, covidbozeman.org, where people can sign up to receive aid or volunteer and can view the community needs list and donate to the community fund.

While the group originated in response to the virus, Shao and Strock said it plans to continue to provide aid to those in the Gallatin Valley who need it even after the virus has run its course, whenever that may be.

“I think we all are seeing that the issues that this disease has pulled back the curtain on have been long-standing issues, even in this specific community,” Shao said. “We’re building up a community network that we hope will persist.”

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651.