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Supporting the Community: Puerto Rican Mutual Aid Efforts

If you’re interested in learning more about your nearest mutual aid organization, we have a list of mutual aid networks across the island.

Over the last few years, Puerto Rico has become synonymous with endurance through adversity. The island has been resilient through  crippling municipal debt, US-based austerity measures, federal laws that increase prices on local goods, state neglect, and natural disasters like Hurricanes María and Fiona, and the 2020 earthquakes. These compounding situations and inadequate government responses have led Puerto Ricans to realize they can’t often rely on their government to meet their needs. 

This realization has led to the emergence of grassroots organizations and mutual aid efforts focused on addressing the needs of the island’s many sectors, including food, shelter, medicine, first aid, and children and elder care. 

Mutual aid, a practice traced back to at least the 18th century but has probably always existed, is best defined as solidarity-based aid or support provided collectively within a community. When people come together to meet each others’ needs regardless of the power structures keeping them from resources, comfort, and peace of mind--that’s mutual aid. In fact, if you’ve ever given food to someone in need, you’ve participated in mutual aid. Sometimes, helping others can be that easy. 

Although mutual aid efforts like Sonadora En Acción and Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo Mariana existed before Hurricane María, the devastation of the hurricane brought these projects to the forefront of public imagination. After the hurricane, activist groups occupied vacant buildings across the island, turning them into Centros de Apoyo Mutuo (or mutual aid centers). Supported by donations and community members, these hubs provided for the communities’ basic needs. And it is this spirit of communal effort that has slowly helped rebuild parts of the island and combat adversity in the face of government absence and neglect. 

As time has passed, mutual aid efforts have evolved from their initial purpose. Now, many of them are looking toward long-term recovery. After all, mutual aid doesn’t have to exist solely in the context of crisis; it’s a way of life, a rejection of the colonial structures and authorities that have imposed centuries of scarcity and trauma and expect us to survive and thrive individually when we are much better suited to moving through the world together. What’s best, it puts power back in the hands of people who have until now been entirely powerless.

If you want to learn more about Puerto Rico’s mutual aid networks or provide economic support, here is a brief intro to different organizations from every corner of the island. 


After the closing of a local school in 2017, a group now called Centro de Apoyo Mutuo Las Carolinas occupied its empty halls and organized a communal kitchen after the passing of Hurricane María. The kitchen served over 200 people daily until Las Carolinas got electricity back in March 2018. Although the threat of the hurricane has passed, CAM-Las Carolinas remains an essential community hub, providing food and clothes to those in need. During COVID, the group was also at the forefront of vaccination efforts. 

Since October 4th 2017, just 14 days after the hurricane, La Olla Común, a similar support group, has been serving breakfast and meeting other community needs. Since then, the project has expanded to include community empowerment. They propose to rescue and rehabilitate abandoned buildings and organize study groups focused on social justice and community autonomy. They’ve recently begun growing a sustainable vegetable garden to encourage food sovereignty. 


Formed in 2010 to protect natural and cultural patrimony, the Iniciativa de Ecodesarrollo Bahía de Jobos (IDEBAJO - or Ecodevelopment Initiative of Jobos Bay) expanded after Hurricane María to include serving meals across Salinas, Arroyo, and Guayama. The initiative reactivated the mutual aid network Construyendo Solidaridad desde el Amor y la Devoción to help rebuild local homes damaged after the disaster. Now, the initiative works with Coquí Solar, a project dedicated to bringing solar energy to Puerto Rico amid the island’s energy crisis and the worsening of climate change. 


Since its inception over 30 years ago, the Asociación Recreativa y Educativa Comunal del Barrio Marinana, or ARECMA, has set its sights on the liberation of Mariana, a neighborhood in Humacao, through mutual support. However, the project truly gained traction ten days after Hurricane María when climate activist Christine Nieves Rodriguez launched a community kitchen that fed over 300 people daily. While the community is no longer in such dire conditions, the solidary kitchen still serves around 30 people weekly. The initiative’s main focus now is sustainable agriculture and creating a community garden capable of feeding the community. 


Weeks after Hurricane María hit, aid was already being mismanaged by FEMA and the local government. Unable to contact their families or authorities for help, far too many people died hungry and helpless. In September 2017, a group of people from the West and the diaspora came together to meet the needs of their local communities. They cleared streets of debris and distributed food, water filters, and tents for shelter. In 2020, they helped people in Guánica whose living situations were affected by the earthquakes and were refused help by FEMA. Years later, they’re still up and running as the Brigada Solidaria del Oeste

Come Colegial is a 2014 student-founded association at UPR Mayagüez. Its mission is to eradicate hunger in the student body by supplying non-perishable food items to students in need. The project owes its success to the generosity of the entities, students, and private citizens that provide the food and distribute it to their peers. 

A saying often used in Puerto Rico is “Solo el pueblo salva al pueblo," meaning, “Only the people save the people.”

If you’re interested in learning more about your nearest mutual aid organization or joining the fight against poverty, the Red Apoyo Mutuo (Mutual Aid Network of Puerto Rico) website is the place to visit. They provide basic information about their projects, their mission, and how to get involved. The María Fund, a resource mobilization initiative that helps fund local projects and organizations, is also a trustworthy source of grassroots efforts.

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