Putney Mutual Aid offers a network of compassion

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PUTNEY — In a time of crisis people need help and want to help others, and the best way to do this is locally. This is where Putney Mutual Aid comes in with neighbors helping neighbors. The Putney Mutual Aid organizing group formed in early March to create a network of Putney residents who can help each other and be helped during this crisis.

The initial organizing group of Putney Mutual Aid grew organically. A variety of voices came together, including many concerned individuals, state representatives, and representatives from the town of Putney, Putney Foodshelf and Putney Community Cares. Each person joining had some ideas of what they thought needed to happen to better serve our community — the plan for developing a mutual aid system was rooted in those early calls.

The Putney Mutual Aid organizing group met daily on Zoom for weeks to figure out what could be done to help the community and strengthen our systems of support and information in the event that the virus spread. This is how the network of compassion that is Putney Mutual Aid was formed.

At the time of writing, 195 Putney residents have filled out a "confidential needs and volunteering offers" form. The types of support identified range from pickup and delivery of groceries, taking care of pets, to acting as a neighborhood point person. "During this public health crisis it has been powerful to see how neighbors here in Putney, and around VT, are delivering food, shopping for each other, helping each other get to essential hospital appointments, making masks for each other, volunteering and donating to the local foodshelf and social service organizations on the front lines," said Jaime Contois, a volunteer for Putney Mutual Aid, which allows folks to receive and give help in different ways.

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Currently, there are over 32 individuals who have volunteered to be a neighborhood point person — each of those volunteers are developing communication systems in their neighborhood that will make it easier to distribute information to a wider group of individuals in Putney. There are over two thousand five hundred residents in Putney, and the goal is to ensure that as many as possible are aware of the resources available to them.

In addition to developing robust communications systems, others in Putney are volunteering by sewing cloth face masks. Still others are volunteering with local organizations like the Putney Foodshelf or shopping for Putney residents who are not comfortable leaving their home due to health risks.

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One of the most successful aspects of Putney Mutual Aid has been collaborations with area organizations. The Mask Tree in Putney is a great example of this collaboration. The Mask Tree is stocked with cloth masks that are free for Putney individuals to take as needed. The inspiration for the mask tree came from Putney resident Joyce Vining Morgan who had heard of other communities that provided masks to residents in creative ways — one similar mask tree in Iowa and a whole system of mask distribution in the Czech Republic. Joyce has been collaborating with Ruby McAdoo (an organizer with Putney Mutual Aid) and Jen Batty (an organizer for the Sewing Masks Project out of Brattleboro) to make the tree a reality. The level of collaboration for such an endeavor is immense — sourcing a donated Christmas tree, ensuring that the owners of the public access porch granted permission of use, working with Next Stage Arts Project and Putney Community Cares to restock and monitor the tree.

The mask tree was put up just a day after the Putney Select Board voted to require masks in Putney establishments. Four weeks later, 390 masks have been made by neighbors in Putney and donated for the tree.

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"They disappear at a rate of up to 15 a day," said Joyce, "We have the support of area business, individuals and organizations, this network is a remarkable response for the need for folks in Vermont to wear masks."

One of the drop off points for donated elastic and cotton material is the Putney General Store, one of nine drop off points in Windham County, organized by The Sewing Masks Project. When the tree is clean out of masks and there is no backstock, disposable masks in plastic baggies are put out. Those were donated by the Putney Foodshelf. This network grows stronger every single day as more and more people step up to the plate and volunteers use their abilities and skills to help others. This is not a temporary network. We have no idea when a vaccine will be available or if there will be a second wave of the virus once the state opens up facilities. And our great region has known natural disasters, such as Tropical Storm Irene, that could easily make such a network essential in the future. We are all in this for the long haul and need to support each other.

To that end, Putney Mutual Aid invested in sandwich boards that are posted throughout Putney. These signs direct residents to the email and phone number for the network. Folks are sent an online form that allows them to state their needs or how they can help. Flyers around town direct people to resources such as the Putney Foodshelf, Putney Community Cares, and the Emergency Management Director for the Town of Putney. These signs are a reminder of the powerful work that Putney Mutual Aid is doing — creating a beautiful network of compassion.

To reach out to Putney Mutual Aid, email at PutneyVTMutualAid@gmail.com or call 802-387-0028.


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