OP-ED: Solidarity, Not Charity: Mutual Aid Through DIY in Nashville

Posted: by The Editor

With the closing of venues and other D.I.Y spaces across the U.S. and the world due to the pandemic, it can be difficult to still feel that sense of community without live music or access to those warm, inviting spaces. It’s also difficult for many people to get access to the resources they need due to job loss, the limited funding of government programs, etc. Nashville’s only all-ages venue, Drkmttr, is bridging that gap by running a free store out of their venue space along with a 24 hour community fridge located just to the left of the building’s front door. Instead of late-night sweaty shows filled with music fans of all ages, the venue is now full of various things ranging from school supplies to fresh produce for anyone who enters every Saturday from 12pm to 6pm CT. 

As Olivia from Drkmttr explains, “Drkmttr has been an evolving All Ages venue for going on nearly a decade (officially 2015).  I came in on the second incarnation, the collective years. Since then we’ve evolved into a more formal business model but the ethos has always been the same. That’s why now with the pandemic we can evolve with what’s going on around us. We’ve always believed strongly in mutual aid because being in a band with DIY principals often leads you to rely on your community and that’s the common ground that brought us (Kathryn Edwards, Chappy Hull and myself) together in the first place to make Drkmttr what it is.

We have always wanted to provide a space for both touring and local artists to express themselves without barriers and to create a strong sense of community and an overall safe space to share ideas and values. That’s why the Free Store has been such a perfect marriage with the space. So many folks are in need right now, we can’t have shows…so we always ask, how can we help?”

I was able to speak to Molly McCarthy from the Free Store and Emily from the Community Fridge to learn more. Here’s how they do it and how you can too: 

When did you decide on making the free store?

Molly: Some of my friends organized the Birmingham free store so I have been inspired by them and other mutual aid organizations for awhile. I asked Chappy if Drkmttr’s space was being used during the pandemic and mentioned the free store idea and it seemed like a good idea to everyone. 

What has the response been like so far?

M: So far, our community has shown up for each other in amazing ways. We are happy that we can share this collective vision with each other and have a lot of hope for the long term creative possibilities we will explore together.

What are some of the store / community’s biggest needs?

M: The biggest need for the store is continued support from donors. People have been very generous so far and we have to prioritize sustainability. We want people to have their needs met in a reliable way, and part of this is staying connected and committed to creating autonomous forms of consumption and living while we pressure existing institutions to change in a way that actually serves the people. This is survival work. 

What would you say to someone who wants to start something similar in their own city? 

M: People have always worked better together than as separate individuals. You may find it simpler than expected to bring the existing good in your community together. Especially in the South where a lot of crisis resolution is dominated by churches and charity, we want to offer a space in which we uplift others rather than blame individuals for targeted, systemic neglect.

 Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

M: We would love to get feedback or insight from community members. We are also willing to answer any other questions people may have. People can contact us through instagram or our email nashvillefreestore@gmail.com

How did the fridge start?

Emily: Community fridges are nothing new, they started in Germany as a way to redistribute food that wood otherwise be wasted to those in need. Now because of the pandemic and an increase of those in need, fridges have started popping up all over the U.S. I saw an Instagram post from someone in New York City who was volunteering with a community fridge. I started chatting with other fridge accounts and asking how to get started. Pretty quickly I was put in contact with a member from A New World In Our Hearts, a nyc based group and they put me in contact with an individual who grew up in Nashville but had recently moved to nyc. From there we worked together to set up an Instagram, set up a group chat and contact volunteers, and started reaching out to local businesses. 


How do you feel like it’s impacted the community so far? 

E: I know that these our community fridge here in Nashville has already impacted the community in a great way. The fridges are redistributing otherwise wasted food to those in need. One user of the fridge wrote a message back to us saying “Thank you for posting this it means so much. During this time we have had such a difficult time feeding our family. We weren’t sure where to turn. To see this and be able to grab a few vegetables for my child is amazing. When we get on our feet I plan on restocking with some fresh items for others.” This project has also brought together volunteers in the community. Personally I have met so many amazing new people I would have never had the opportunity to connect with. 

What do you hope to accomplish with it? 

E: The community fridges are no temporary solution, there are here to stay! These fridges are building a network of long lasting connections within the community. We will keep adding new fridges to every neighborhood that is in need as long as we have the support and the means to do so. Right now we have two fridges, one located in North Nashville and one in East. We are currently searching for a location in South as well. We have recently created a petition that is linked in our Instagram bio, this petition can be printed and handed out to any local restaurants, cafes, grocery stores, farms, or any place that has food waste. The petition asks for said place to donate 100% of their edible food waste to those in need. This is the best way for anyone who wants to help out and contribute to do so. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

E:Nashville has two other groups of mutual aid as well. The Nashville free store supplies essential goods as well as fresh and canned foods to those in need with a no questions asked no judgement passed policy. Bliss and the trash plants works to create grocery kits for anyone in need. They run through a community nourishment exchange program, turning Nashville’s waste into community support.


Lindsy Carrasquillo | @lindsy_carr

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