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New mutual aid network to cover 11 towns including Lyme and Old Lyme

A new mutual aid organization is forming in the lower Connecticut River Valley, and will serve 11 towns, including Lyme and Old Lyme.

The group, started by Deep River bookstore proprietor and former state Senate candidate Colin Bennett, is meant to be an extension of ongoing work at Bennett’s Books, which has been operating for more than seven years.

"After the first year and a half we started doing as much community service as we could, so the community refrigerator, and the pantry, and free books for low-income kids, food drives, but I wanted it to be not just about the bookstore,” Bennett said. “The bookstore can provide these services, but we don’t have a mutual aid network in the area.”

A news release from Sylvantide Mutual Aid announcing its formation defined mutual aid as “a voluntary and reciprocal exchange of resources and services for mutual benefit. It is a practical expression of actions that reinforce solidarity and cooperation, with the goal of making sure everyone’s basic needs are met and no person falls through the cracks.”

To that effect, Bennett hopes to eventually expand the network to offering a cash assistance fund. And while he said he’s already received support and offers to help with the project in the past several weeks, the group will need more help to make it happen.

“People who are in especially dire need can reach out — ‘This month I need $200 for rent because I got sick and couldn’t work for a week,’ or something like that,” Bennett said. “Sometimes you don't have anyone to borrow it from; the bank’s not going to give you $200."

He said there’s an expectation but no demand for reciprocity in the network.

Other goals of the group, aside from the cash assistance fund, are to set up community refrigerators, or “Freedges,” and free food pantries in all of the towns in the region, starting free clothing sheds and “offering small service projects such as yard work for low-income senior citizens and folks with disabilities,” according to a news release.

Bennett and others in the group say the network isn’t only to offer services but to start relationships and create community. The other towns it will serve are Haddam, Killingworth, Chester, Deep River, Essex, Old Saybrook, Westbrook, East Hampton and East Haddam.

“I love our local group because not only has it helped me make connections in a new town during COVID (we moved here at the end of 2018 with a young kid, so social interactions have been a challenge!), it has helped us to decrease our reliance on a consumer and capital-based market,” Lisa Tucker of Chester said in the network’s news release.

Members of the network say that it can be a place for services without red tape. During his time operating the Freedge out of the bookstore, Bennett said people who use it sometimes come in and talk to him.

“This is not meant to disparage social services in any town, but I’ve heard from multiple people that social services has failed them for whatever reason,” Bennett said. “Maybe they didn’t ask for help properly, but social services does not meet the needs of everybody all the time, nor should it.”

People who would like to be of assistance to the network can go to sylvantidemutualaid.org or call (860) 395-8392.

s.spinella@theday.com

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