Dane County Community Defense pivots to COVID-19 relief

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Dane County Community Defense (DCCD) is relying on individuals to meet the needs of the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We depend on community funding to sustain ourselves,” DCDC member CV Vitolo-Haddad said. “It is a collective. Most of the people involved need help of some kind too.” 

The DCCD was birthed out of the Madison General Defense Committee, which has served in the city for several years.  COVID specific relief started on March 12 to provide direct aid to those struggling financially. The collective is 100% volunteer-run, with as many as 400 volunteers pitching in throughout this crisis, Vitolo-Haddad said.

The Defense fund is also providing food staples and meals out of their food distribution center. The goal is to provide households with three days of food for each member in the home. The DCCD’s Bureaucratic Resource Advocacy Team leads getting people connected to long term resources in the community.

The collective has teams that focus on different needs in the community. The emotional support team makes calls for those struggling in quarantine and the medical help team helps people make informed decisions, prison organizing team, and a team of sewers make masks. The collective just began a farming group to grow food Vitolo-Haddad said.

The requests are streamlined in a case management system to ensure that the variety of needs are being met for individuals. Within the first days of the fund being available they received 300 requests and many community members were interested in supporting. 

This effort originally started out of the Madison General Defense Fund, which gave them the experience of how to do mutual aid. Due to the growth of the collective the name was changed to the Dane County Community Defense.

“We didn't really feel comfortable calling it a general defense anymore because there are just so many members of the community who are putting in so much labor and love into making it successful,” Vitolo-Haddad said.  “We wanted a name that really reflected what all of us were putting into it.”

The Dane County Community Defense Fund was the first to respond to COVID-19 before the government and nonprofits, but cannot sustain the work they are currently doing, Vitolo-Haddad said.

“This is not sustainable at all. We can’t even get close to providing people the level of help that they need,” Vitolo-Haddad said. 

Vitolo-Haddad said DCCD is creating structures to leverage grassroots activist energy.

“The first two weeks it was just us,” Vitolo-Haddad said. “The responses that are happening at the grassroots are better and better organized.”

The early response of the DCCD allowed them to receive 1,800 requests and provided nearly $50,000 in direct aid support to those struggling at this point. They are currently applying for grants for the work. 

Vitolo-Haddad emphasized that this crisis has exacerbated the inequalities and disparities that were already present. The DCCD is calling for long lasting change after the crisis. 

“[We should] advocate for real systemic change on the other side of this,” Vitolo-Haddad said. “The overall goal is to meet the needs of our community and work towards our collective liberation.”

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