When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the Upper Valley, it brought an ever-lengthening list of questions and concerns. Would supplies of food and other essentials hold out? Where would those suddenly without income get help? Who would support those at greatest risk from the coronavirus so they could stay home and stay safe? Where could people get the best information about testing, public health measures, and social assistance programs?

Seemingly overnight, an answer sprang up: the “mutual aid groups,” an interconnected array of community-based volunteer groups that reached out to residents and shared information with each other. Those Upper Valley mutual aid groups, numbering close to two dozen, have been chosen as Vital Communities’ collective 2020 Volunteers of the Year.

“We usually choose an individual for this honor, but this year it seemed fitting to shine a light on the incredible network of people who stepped up for their neighbors with such ingenuity and resourcefulness,” said Sarah Jackson, Vital Communities Executive Director. “The mutual aid groups have been a great demonstration of how to be resilient in the face of challenges. They used online tools like surveys, meetings, spreadsheets and community listservs to reach those in need and to share information among other groups. The volunteers are people from within each community, who understand their town’s people and their needs.  The networks represent a true grassroots effort.”

Mutual aid groups constitute an ever-changing and not sharply defined list, but below is a representative list of some of the Upper Valley mutual aid groups, with contact information in the links:

Much help has also been provided by the Central Vt Council on Aging and local “aging in place” groups as well as through various communities’ boards of selectmen, town clerk’s offices, churches, village stores, schools, food shelves, and libraries.