Don’t just talk about it, be about it.
This was the thought that went into Operation Help or Hush, born out of the protests in Ferguson, Mo., following Michael Brown’s shooting death; a type of stick-it to critics who doubted that social media could have an impact in activism: “help or hush.”
Charles Wade, one of the founders of the organization, which gained its nonprofit status in January, describes Operation Help or Hush as a type of Red Cross or “auxiliary” to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Recognizing that organizers needed to organize and prioritize regarding protesters who might be in jail, the group found its niche in providing emergency aid and making sure that members in affected communities have what they need.
“We became a de facto arm of the movement that responds much like a Red Cross. We provide emergency aid. In these situations, it is an emergency, not a disaster,” Wade tells The Root. “Agencies that come out for disaster relief don’t come out for unrest. [Disaster relief] organizations don’t really do a crisis response. They can’t get away with it from a spending standpoint.
“Organizers’ attention is all over the place,” he continues. “Everyone is vying for their time. They’re not trying to slight the community, but if you have to choose between getting people out of jail, where they may have medical issues, where they may get hurt, versus feeding children on the street, somebody had to make that decision.”
For example, during the Ferguson protests amid unbearable heat, the group started raising money over Twitter to get protesters towels, which would stay cool as long as they were wet. They raised about $27,000 in that endeavor.
“When you’re protesting, your personal needs fall low on the totem pole,” Wade explains. “There were a lot of folks out there, a lot of young people out, as well as elderly people out trying to keep the peace. The least we can do is make sure people aren’t out in 100-degree weather trying to faint.”
When the death of Freddie Gray and subsequent protests pushed Baltimore to the forefront, the organization turned its attention to supporting the students who would be affected by schools closing.
“Students in Baltimore City schools use [the] free-lunch program. How are they going to eat? Myself and another person got in a car, drove to Baltimore, organizing food,” Wade says.
While riding shotgun with his friend, Wade continued to email and text all the way to the city, organizing the food under the hashtag #BaltimoreLunch. After they assessed the situation, it soon became clear that food would not be enough as stores began to close and access to other supplies, such as baby food and toilet paper, became limited, especially with stores such as CVS being burned down.
“People who are low-income don’t keep an abundance of diapers or baby formula around,” Wade points out. “We have a very specific role in maintaining a certain level of peace.”
Wade says that some people were worried that they would have to loot stores to get the supplies they needed in an otherwise locked-down community. “They didn’t know what they were going eat. That’s what we do,” he says. “Our primary function is really resourcing the community.”
On April 28 the organization handed out about 110 pizzas bought from local pizzerias and also distributed over 1,000 snack bags, Wade says. The following day, the group upped the number to 150 pizzas and also handed out about the same number of snack bags. On April 29 and 30, it added a free ice cream truck to the mix for about three hours and shifted the focus a bit, handing out baby food, formula and diapers, primarily around the Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray used to live.
Wade says that it is easy to work around the Gilmor Homes because the area is already a food desert. Residents work to spread the word around the community about the organization’s offerings and what time they are coming.
In periods of peace, when there is no unrest, the organization focuses on other needs in varying communities, such as food shares and housing. Wade says that it hopes to continue to do #BaltimoreLunch when school is closed and around the holidays.
On Saturday, Operation Help or Hush will be hosting a free #BaltimoreLunch farmers market at the Gilmor Homes. Wade says that, including this free farmers market, about 400 people in total have contributed in one way or another to the cause, and the group has spent about $24,000 in Baltimore, with $20,000 being raised.
For Saturday, specifically for meat purchases, which members of the organization will be taking care of themselves for health and safety purposes, it has raised about $900.
A friend of Wade’s probably provided the most apt description of the organization’s function.
“‘What you all do is very similar to low-paid work where people don’t really consider it to be work,’” Wade says a friend told him. “‘You’re the lunch ladies; you’re the janitors of the movement. It’s not looked at like work until you’re not there.’”
Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.