The Middletown Mutual Aid Collective is a recently-formed initiative that aims to address the high levels of need in Middletown amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Organized by Bryan Chong ’21, Maya Gomberg ’22, and Emily McEvoy ’22, the collective is comprised of numerous groups both on Wesleyan’s campus and in Middletown, including North End Action Team (NEAT), Wesleyan Democrats, Middlesex Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA), and Wesleyan for Bernie. The concept for the collective came from the Wesleyan Mutual Aid Spreadsheet, which was created in March to help students find resources and services during the crisis.
“The chief idea is we are not a charity or an organization with a lot of money and resources, just grassroots organizers who as part of a community are trying to establish a network for people in the community to help each other out,” Chong said. “Just keeping in mind that during all this crisis, everyone has something that they can give and everyone has something that they need. And what we are trying to do is build community solidarity and resilience.”
The primary aim of the collective is to fill the gaps in mutual aid in Middletown, so residents can access services and resources such as food, clothes, childcare, legal aid, and safe housing. To achieve this goal, organizers are hoping to bridge the gap between the University and the Middletown community.
“I think Wesleyan has a very myopic view of any crisis that comes its way and we talk about students so much but not really the community that we occupy,” McEvoy said. “Obviously, I am in a unique position where I literally live in Middletown, so this is very apparent to me while it might not be to other people. But, it’s really just my goal to help combat that among Wesleyan students and to garner enough student attention…to help the community that we often take from in a lot of ways.”
Ultimately, the hope is that this mutual aid network will remain as a lasting link between the University and the City of Middletown.
“I think the beautiful thing about these times of uncertainty is that while we’re creating something that is basically meant for the COVID incident…it can be something that is after COVID,” co-coordinator of WesNeat and NEAT board member Alphina Kamara ’22 said.
Its organizers hope that the collective will serve as a model for other Connecticut cities to develop or grow mutual aid networks.
“There are lots of towns that still have not set up a mutual aid network, and I know that I’ve been doing a lot of outreach to these towns looking for individuals who have done some sort of community organizing during COVID and reaching out to them to ask if they need help setting this up and if they have the time and energy to do so,” Gomberg said.
Currently, the Middletown Mutual Aid Collective is focusing on three main areas. Firstly, they are working on outreach: putting up posters around Middletown and publicizing their services and needs on social media. The collective is also working with NEAT and taking advantage of their sizable social media presence and their tangible connections to the City of Middletown.
Secondly, the collective is working on financing so that they can better meet community needs, primarily through grant writing. They are also working with the University—as some student groups donated their money to the collective—but the University will only offer reimbursements with that money instead of giving it outright. This is problematic because members don’t necessarily have the money to front purchases.
“There is quite a lot of money that the school owes us,” Gomberg said. “Right now the system in place is that they reimburse us for money spent on mutual aid which is incredibly frustrating because I know I don’t personally have the money to front that and then get reimbursed so we’re trying to make it so that we’re able to get that money out of the school that has been specifically donated to NEAT and the Middletown Mutual Aid Collective. That way we’ll be able to do more of this work before the grants start coming in.”
The collective’s third area of focus is coordinating and collaborating with Mayor Ben Florsheim ’14 to better meet the Middletown community’s needs.
“The mayor’s office has been pretty good at coordinating services but they haven’t filled all the need that mutual aid is trying to fill,” Gomberg said. “We’re hoping that the mayor’s office can start not only to provide more resources so that we know everything that’s being offered, and we can redirect people to those services, if that’s what makes sense for them but also so that they can spread the word about mutual aid. We’re hoping that they share our page, they share the mutual aid spreadsheet. While this isn’t directly a governmental resource, it is something that they should be sharing because it’s going to help the community that they’re trying to serve.”
Middletown residents looking to receive aid can fill out an anonymous needs form, post on the Mutual Aid spreadsheet, or use the contact information on the flyers posted around Middletown to get in touch with the collective.
The Middletown Mutual Aid Collective is currently looking for volunteers of all backgrounds. They are urgently looking for fluent Spanish speakers who can call residents who only speak Spanish, and people living in or near the Middletown area who can help with outreach efforts like putting up flyers. The organizers of the collective are hoping that students will volunteer regardless of experience with organizing.
“I think a lot of students on campus think that there’s an invisible barrier to entry on this type of community organizing and activism work,” Gomberg said. “I will tell you that that is not true. There’s no barrier. Every person involved with the Middletown Mutual Aid Collective really just wants … to make sure that we can help as many people as possible to do this work. Because if only the people who were already involved in activism on campus are doing the work, we’re going to be spread too thin. There’s too much work to do. So we’re really hoping students who have not yet gotten involved, in addition to those who have been involved for a long time will step up to the plate and help their community because we need as much manpower as we possibly can get in real time of urgent crisis.”
Additionally, the NEAT office is accepting donations between 12-4pm on Saturdays. They are particularly looking for basic necessities including food, clothes, and personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, and gloves.
Hallie Sternberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @halsternberg.