CoMo Mobile Aid Collective is a mobile soup kitchen, medical service, and resource team that serves Columbia’s unhoused population. We talked to Catherine Armbrust and Stephanie Yoakum, two senior volunteers, about the organization’s work.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What does CoMo Mobile Aid Collective do, and how did the organization get started?
Yoakum: It all started in 2018 out of the back of a Subaru by Dirk Burhans, and it started with a couple of crock pots and some cups and a ladle and some gloves. It has now evolved. We have a variety of mobile services that we offer. We have a medical clinic, a mobile soup kitchen. We have a variety of seasonal teams such as water teams in summer or fuel teams in winter. We have the pet assistance so all the camp pets are taken care of with anything that they might need.
Armbrust: We’ve got our downtown street team that works in extreme weather.
Can you explain mutual aid to someone who has never heard it before?
Yoakum: So, a lot of giving systems may be considered charitable, and it can imply a lot of things in the relationship, such as the giver being on a higher platform than the recipient, or that aid only goes one way. Mutual aid also sees the value in what the people that we serve can bring to us, and they do help us. It’s a much more cooperative and immediate form of action. Sometimes charitable giving can have parameters, or conditions to giving, and we don’t believe in making someone jump through hoops or no expectations of sobriety or piety in order to receive those items. Yet, in return, we’ve been able to develop a really good rapport with the people that we serve. We feel we get better and more involved behavior out of them than a lot of other agencies in town they encounter sometimes. They help us lift things, move things. they’re there with a set of hands.
Armbrust: That’s also where the term radical hospitality comes in, right? You don’t have to jump through a hoop to prove that you’re worth receiving a meal, or a tent or medical care or anything.
Yoakum: You don’t have to fill out paperwork or enter a program.
Is it ever hard to gather the volunteers for food, support, and services?
Armbrust: I don’t feel like it’s hard.
Yoakum: It needs normalization and visibility. It’s just a different structure than from what anyone else here in town is used to. What we’re doing is incredibly unique and unheard of in the mid Missouri area, but we’re not 100% original and unique. Groups like this are popping up all over the country as a response to current systems being somewhat perceived as being sluggish [and] slow to respond.
What has been your greatest contribution to the Mid-Missouri area?
Armbrust: I think that us bringing visibility to the issue and help[ing] [create] empathy is probably one of the best contributions that we have. I think that being more vocal in advocating with the city and working with the city, just sort of pushing them like, “Hey, these needs need to be met. How can we help?” That seems to be one of our strengths.
How do you want the community to interact with CoMo Mobile Aid Collective?
Armbrust: First of all, developing ways to get community individuals or small groups more involved. The other way, obviously, would be to normalize the conversation.
Yoakum: We call it radical hospitality, but it shouldn’t have to be. Even if we’re not there, people should still be treating these individuals with humanity.