By Dylan Phillips
From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mutual Aid Carrboro has provided help to local residents who really needed it. Now it could use some help itself. It could use some volunteers.
In an early effort to assist those experiencing homelessness during the pandemic, Mutual Aid Carrboro coordinated the placement of hand-washing stations throughout the community. Over the course of the year, the organization has placed more hand-washing stations across the Triangle.
The units are built to be self-contained, collecting the wastewater instead of dumping it onto the ground; this leaves the volunteer to dispose of the wastewater. Anyone can volunteer to service the station. All that’s needed is the ability to transport and lift buckets of water to and from the stations.
“At this point, monetary needs are for replacement parts for the wash stations and for replacement liquid soap for the soap containers,” said Devin Ceartas, a community organizer from Chapel Hill who is the lead coordinator of the Mutual Aid Hand-Washing Stations Project. “By far, the largest need is for people to help service the stations.”
While donations are helpful, volunteers are more important for the success of the hand-washing station project, largely because the stations require so much upkeep.
The project began last March, before there were any known cases of coronavirus in the Triangle, when a group of residents met in person to plan ways in which to help the community during what they believed was a looming crisis. They focused on mutual aid, a concept centered around working with and showing solidarity with people who are in need, keeping in mind that the person providing aid is no better than the one receiving it. Mutual aid emphasizes learning from those you assist, with the hope they will assist you one day should you need it.
“The group of people, most of whom had been involved in previous mutual aid efforts, such as hurricane efforts and food distribution efforts, met in Carrboro and we sort of just brainstormed together, what were the ways in which this virus coming to the area was going to impact our community,” Ceartas said.
The group predicted the loss of many service industry jobs in the area, so, in cooperation with the NC Piedmont Democratic Socialists of America, Mutual Aid Carrboro set up a fund that currently has distributed more than $90,000 to local service industry workers impacted by the pandemic, Ceartas said.
Also hatched during that meeting was the idea to build, and maintain, hand-washing stations throughout Carrboro and Chapel Hill. Ceartas said someone within the group provided a link to a design for the stations, which originated from an Indigenous people’s organization’s website.
In month, Ceartas partnered with the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness. The organization pointed him to where the 10 hand-washing stations would provide the most benefit for Chapel Hill-Carrboro residents. Then, in April and May, Bonneville Electric in Carrboro stepped in, producing another batch of stations.
Ceartas said Brad Bonneville, owner of the company, is “a community-minded local business owner.” Instead of laying off employees when work hit a lull in April, Bonneville used the lack of traditional business as an opportunity to allow people to keep their jobs while simultaneously supporting the community and its vulnerable populations.
There are now hand-washing stations in Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Hillsborough, Durham, Cary and Raleigh. A few stations were also sent to coastal areas following Hurricane Isais.
Richard and Marsha Scherubel, 79 and 78, have been servicing the stations. The couple has been involved with Mutual Aid Carrboro for the last five years.
“We are interested in being helpful to the community, that’s generally what our point of view is,” Richard Scherubel said.
But the pandemic prevented the Scherubels from volunteering in a traditional way. So, when the couple heard about the opportunity to service the stations, they jumped on it.
“In many ways, especially during the pandemic, [we have been] searching for ways in which to be helpful, even though we are elderly,” Marsha Scherubel said. “We are immunocompromised, so there’s not a lot we can get involved with, we can’t do very much as far as being close to people. So, the hand-washing station, we think, was a good idea, because it’s one of those kind of ideas that has to be constantly serviced in order to be useful to people.”
Marsha Scherubel said she hopes anyone who knows or hears about the stations will know that we are all interconnected and interdependent.
“There’s a zillion ways in which being kind to the right next to you — even if they’re six feet away — is helpful for everyone,” Marsha Scherubel said. “None of us [are] safe, or in a place of justice, unless we all are.”
People can volunteer by emailing the general information email address on the Mutual Aid Hand-Washing Stations website. Volunteers can log in and access the interactive map on Mutual Aid’s website, allowing them to see which stations need servicing.
Once a volunteer has serviced a station, they can mark it as completed on the map. Ceartas said the map “becomes the way that coordinates the servicing of the stations.”