MORRIS COUNTY, NJ—When COVID-19 first hit the United States, Theresa Markila, a Jefferson Township resident, realized that the pandemic—and the resulting lockdown—could have a disproportionately catastrophic impact on New Jersey’s most vulnerable communities.
“When the quarantine orders were starting to come around in mid-February, we knew that a lot of people weren’t getting the information that they needed,” said Markila, who has worked as an activist and organizer across the state. “A lot of them don’t have access to the internet or social media, and were not getting the news.”
So she decided to take action. In February, Markila and a group of organizers took to the streets of New Jersey, armed with informational fliers and bars of soap that they distributed to those in need. Hoping to provide meaningful support to these communities, Markila and her colleagues decided to create Mutual Morris, a Morris County-based mutual aid group.
Initially, Mutual Morris was only supposed to provide people—specifically, people more susceptible to COVID-19—with safer access to food. It has since evolved into a larger community that does much more than just ensuring the basic provision of groceries. With roughly 50 volunteers supporting over 300 families, Mutual Morris primarily supports families by delivering basic groceries and school meals. But, many families also turn to Mutual Morris for guidance on issues ranging from working with predatory landlords, to filing their taxes.
According to Markila, Mutual Morris is “not charity—it’s empowering [local communities], and teaching them, and working together with them.” Mutual Morris works to “connec[t] the greater community to each other so that we can all help each other according to our strengths and skills, and really help everyone stabilize throughout this crisis,” she said.
Although it has been difficult for Mutual Morris meet the demands of an expanding community, its volunteers have stepped up to the plate. While most volunteers provide support by delivering groceries, others are helping build software systems for a new website. In the future, the group even hopes to develop communal food gardens and community-led co-op businesses—important initiatives that it believes will strengthen and empower families.
For those wishing to help, Mutual Morris welcomes donations of most kinds, and encourages new volunteers to join and assist with food deliveries and phone calls. Mutual Morris also appreciates all tips for local job opportunities and rooms available for rent. The organizers can be contacted directly via their Facebook and Twitter pages.