After Protests, Baltimore Community Finds Help Through Social Media

Operation Help or Hush volunteers handing out supplies in Baltimore on Thursday.
Operation Help or Hush volunteers handing out supplies in Baltimore on Thursday. –Jordan Lebeau/Boston.com Staff

BALTIMORE – Charles Wade is in his early 30s, sitting in a hotel lobby in Baltimore in basketball shorts and a sweatshirt. He is checking his phone constantly. It’s vibrating nonstop, and our conversation is interrupted more than once with a phone call or a glance at a text message.

“I’m sorry,’’ he says as he gets off the phone with a potential donor.

This has been the story of the last nine months of Wade’s life.

Wade is the founder of Operation Help Or Hush, a nonprofit organization that began with a hashtag on Twitter in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown last summer. It has grown into a sort of satellite operation that travels to communities with direct need in the aftermath of similar tragedies.

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“We got the name because we realized that eventually, talking on social media to people who already believe and agree with you, while necessary and well and good, wasn’t going to do anything,’’ Wade says. “Eventually we were going to have to either help or hush because the conversation on Twitter wasn’t helping anyone.’’

Help Or Hush plays an important role, mainly because it fills needs that other more established aid organizations cannot.

“The Red Cross and organizations like that only tend to step in when there is mass displacement from homes,’’ Wade says. “We know that that hasn’t happened, but there is still a need for direct and quick action in Baltimore, and that’s why we came when we could.’’

Wade, who is originally from Washington, D.C. and now resides in Austin, Texas, was joined by a group of donors, community members, and local organizers Thursday in Baltimore giving out baby food and supplies to needy families. Help Or Hush’s reasoning is sound.

“People have been out of work, or working truncated hours, for as many as 10 days now in response to this,’’ Wade says. “It’s going to be the first of the month soon, which means that people haven’t been getting paid their full wages if they’re out of work as hourly wage workers.’’ Things are especially murky for those receiving government assistance. “Some folks have yet to receive their (Women, Infants, and Children) items and possibly won’t receive them,’’ he says.

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And baby supplies, according to Wade, are bills that very quickly snowball into larger issues for families.

“Recognizing the need for supplies,’’ Wade says, “was not only a way to help immediately, but as we see it, a way to help save some of these issues from piling up on some of these families.’’

Help Or Hush does not operate in the same manner a local soup kitchen or charity would. “Instead of telling people we’re going to be at this location and waiting for them to come, we go to the community and we go to the people who need it,’’ Wade says.

The purchases and donations, then, are entirely crowdsourced. In the few days Wade has been in Baltimore, he’s received thousands of dollars of donations from Twitter users.

From the Internet to the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore, Wade and Help Or Hush are beholden to the needs and donations of communities.

“We take [donations] and we go and buy supplies based on with the community tells us and we give it to the community, and that’s the way we want it to work,’’ Wade says.

Baltimore residents line up to receive the supplies. —Jordan Lebeau/Boston.com
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