In the absence of social (public) assistance in Zimbabwe, poor urban households faced with idiosyncratic shocks rely largely on networked households and informal groups, and to a lesser extent on donors. This paper utilizes original household survey data collected in Bulawayo in the second quarter of 2014. A two-stage cross-sectional sample design was used. In the first stage, three out of 21 suburbs were randomly selected, namely Matshobana, Sizinda and Sokusile. In the second stage, 100 households from each township were systematically selected to yield a sample size of 300 households. We contribute to the literature in the following main ways: firstly, we provide a detailed examination of the nature of material exchange in mutual assistance networks; secondly, we undertake an econometric analysis of determinants of receipt of assistance through such networks; and thirdly, we provide an analysis of the role of networks in determining the receipt of external emergency relief. The results show that elderly- and female-headed households are especially likely to receive food as gifts and less likely to receive cash as loans compared to households headed by adult males. In the event that all households in a mutual assistance network are stressed, recourse is sought, via information received in burial societies, by means of emergency food relief provided by external agents such as faith-based- and nongovernmental-organizations. In this context, the ability of the group to pass information to all networked households–poor and non-poor–is important. We find evidence for this and further show that the network strength, measured by the size of the burial society, seems to be related to the receipt of emergency relief. Households headed by young males have little recourse, as they neither belong to mutual assistance networks nor are they targeted for emergency relief. In the event of a systemic risk, households use information obtained through burial societies to access emergency relief. Policy interventions need to consider groups of households that may be falling through the cracks of mutual assistance network and community support, not only in Zimbabwe, but also in other developing nations lacking comprehensive social protection systems.