Frequently Asked Questions

What do you do?

Berkeley Mutual Aid matches lower-risk volunteers with the most pressing needs. This includes collecting PPE and food donations, supporting homeless encampments, and pairing individuals at higher risk for COVID-19 complications with lower-risk volunteers who have offered to help during this crisis. Our neighbor matching arrangement ensures that those at higher risk have someone who can help them meet their basic needs and/or offer social connection. Our volunteers become "buddies" who provide assistance in an ongoing way during this crisis. This helps ensure people in need have a neighbor they can turn to for help throughout the crisis, and as their needs change. We encourage all participants to develop an ongoing relationship, get to know each other, and navigate the bumps and challenges of this difficult time together.

Who qualifies for help?

We are an evolving effort developed by volunteers in the community to get neighborly support to where it is needed most. As this crisis evolves, our project will continue to respond and shift priorities as needed. Right now, we are focusing on two priorities:

  1. Helping people at higher risk from COVID-19, as defined by the City of Berkeley or the CDC, so that they can stay home and safe. This includes folks over 60 years old, anyone with an underlying health condition that puts them at higher risk, and families with pregnant women and newborns.
  2. Helping people who are being especially heavily impacted by COVID-19. This includes folks who are not currently able to afford groceries until they can access CalFresh or other food assistance.

What kind of help can I get?

At our core, we are a matchmaking service, connecting people in need to volunteers who have offered to help. We do not provide any direct services, but rather, we attempt to match folks with neighbors who are nearby and a good match to their needs. We have found that the neighbors in the network can best help with these types of need: Running errands out of the house (picking up groceries, prescriptions etc.) Checking-in by phone to provide some social connection and reduce feelings of isolation Helping folks identify and navigate resources to meet their basic needs (SNAP, low-cost food resources, unemployment insurance, etc.) Providing stop-gap funding to cover a grocery store run in emergencies when someone has completely run out of food and has no funds for groceries; this isn't intended for longer-term or large amounts over $50 We are also compiling resources for general use, which can be found on our website here.

What help isn’t provided?

A simple human connection and someone to call on can be powerful support. However, there are limits to what our volunteer network can provide. Our volunteers provide non-professional support within the boundaries of safety, social distancing, and a reasonable level of effort for a volunteer. All of us, including our volunteers, are living through this crisis. At this time our volunteers are not able to provide the following:

  • Any service inside the home, including cleaning and personal care
  • Accompany when driving, walking, or on public transit, including providing rides
  • Any form of professional service, including medical care, medical advice, and mental health services
  • 24-hour on-call services
As a few examples, here are some things that Berkeley Mutual Aid is not able to provide at this time:
  • A ride to the pharmacy, stores, or appointments
  • Therapy or crisis counseling
  • Social contact that goes beyond a daily or weekly neighborly connection
  • Accounting or tax preparation assistance
  • Childcare
  • Direct financial assistance for rent or other major expenses
  • Multiple weekly errands or visits to multiple different stores
Lastly, our response time may vary and will never be immediate. Berkeley Mutual Aid is not a crisis help line. If you are in urgent need of help, there is help available. Please reach out to these options:
  • In a life-threatening emergency, dial 9-1-1
  • For daytime crisis mental health in Berkeley (M-F 10-5), call the Daytime Crisis hotline at 1-510-981-5244
  • For 24-hour crisis mental health support in Alameda County, call 1-800-309-2131
  • If you are a California senior in need of social support, feeling isolated, or suicidal; call The Friendship Line at 1-800-971-0017
  • Anyone can call the Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990 for 24/7 crisis counseling relating to this pandemic emergency

How do you match neighbors?

Members of our staff review submissions from those requesting and offering assistance and, if possible, talk to individuals seeking support so that we better understand their needs and the level of urgency, and can make the best matches possible. During the matching process, we take into consideration proximity, need, fit, and interest. Our hope is that each pair works together until the pandemic is over or they mutually decide there is no longer a need. Once pairs are formed, we send each person an introductory email (or phone if emailing is not an option) and ask the volunteer to be in touch within 24 hours. Both emails include each other’s contact information and our health and safety protocols. Please Note: We cannot guarantee a match and are focusing on the most urgent cases first. Interested volunteers will be contacted if a match is made.

How do you keep people safe?

We communicate safety guidelines along with every matching introduction, intended to prevent the spread of infection. Our safety guidelines are continually evolving to meet the changing scientific knowledge and public health recommendations in this crisis. Our volunteers are asked to maintain social distancing from their buddies, which means that they cannot provide any in-home care, dog walking, house cleaning, rides, or any other services requiring physical proximity. We are not performing background checks, detailed screenings, or safety training for the people we are matching. Ultimately it is the responsibility of each volunteer and each requester to act responsibly and keep themselves safe, following recommendations of health authorities and using their own best judgment. Please see the disclaimer at the bottom of our website.

Can people without internet access get help?

Yes. People without internet access can call our Google Voice number and leave a message. We aim to call back within 1-2 days. The number is (510) 519-6770. We ask anyone with internet access to please use the forms on our website, or contact us by email for general inquiries.

Can you help non-English speakers?

We are currently set up to help Spanish-language speakers. If you can offer help in other languages, reach out to us at berkeleymutualaid@gmail.com!

What locations do you cover?

Most of our volunteers and recipients are in Berkeley, but we have made matches in other nearby cities. We encourage volunteers and requests in Albany, El Cerrito, Richmond, Emeryville, and Kensington.

I’m located in Oakland or San Francisco. Can I still apply?

For Oakland, we recommend connecting with Oakland at Risk. We do cover Oakland requests with our Oakland volunteers, although most pairs are in Berkeley. due to our stated geography we have fewer of these. In San Francisco, people seeking to give or receive volunteer assistance can sign up here: https://app.monami.io/phone-bank/welcome

Who are you?

Berkeley Mutual Aid originated after the SF Bay Area stay-at-home order in March 2020, when a community member saw the need for volunteers to assist higher-risk folks stuck at home. Within a few days, additional organizers had jumped on board to help and created a website at BerkeleyMutualAid.org. Berkeley Mutual Aid volunteers are not members of any government organization. We are simply caring members of the community who have chosen to dedicate our time and efforts to this project, because we deeply believe that with love and solidarity, we can flatten the curve and get through this crisis together. A core group of about 25 people work as coordinators and organizers, while hundreds of additional volunteers are working throughout Berkeley and nearby towns to serve people in need. We are all unpaid volunteers, generally balancing this work with other obligations of jobs and family. In April, Berkeley Disaster Prep Neighborhood Network, an all-volunteer 501(c)3 nonprofit, stepped in to help. Berkeley Mutual Aid is now a part of BDPNN.

How can I help spread the word?

You can share the link to our website on social media and distribute our flyers in your neighborhood or another neighborhood that you think might have folks who could benefit from mutual aid. Go to our FLYERING page to get more info. We have flyers in Spanish and English. You can also pick up flyers at Berkeley Safeways, Andronicos, Berkeley Bowls, and Mi Tierra Foods. If you post any flyers, please pin our Google map (link) so that others don’t duplicate efforts.

How do I sign up to volunteer?

Please sign up on our website here.

How do I request help?

Please sign up on our website here.