by Kate O’Farrell, UVM Community News Service
HARDWICK – In March of 2020, when a dangerous virus halted daily life and many were forced to isolate, a group of Hardwick citizens banded together to form a program that defied isolation: The Hardwick Neighbors to Neighbors Mutual Aid program.
The group was inspired by a similar volunteer-driven group in Craftsbury, which had been working to aid community members at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Hardwick grassroots organization applied for and received a $1,000 grant from the New England Environmental Fund. Soon, a network of several community members set up an email account and went to work helping their neighbors with the new problems COVID-19 brought to the area.
With the help of the town government, which paid for the postage, the group sent out postcards to every household in town with information on the program and asked for volunteers.
The town was “totally happy to help,” said Neighbor to Neighbor (N2N) member Lisa Sammet. This included putting a link to the Neighbors to Neighbors group on the town website, which is still active today.
The link leads to a form where anyone can register to help, or to receive help, from the Neighbors to Neighbors program. The group has a list of 38 volunteers, and although the town library became a central hub for N2N, the phone number for the group has been set up to forward to volunteers’ home phones.
Over the past year and a half, N2N has received 117 requests for help. The group has made thousands of face masks, provided transportation to testing centers, and directed people to the resources.
The group has also held outdoor movies during the summer of 2020 and worked closely with the Hardwick Area Food Pantry.
“They connected people in need to our services, gathered hats, mittens and other warm stuff for our holiday boxes and rallied volunteers for us, as needed, ” said member LauraLee Sweeney.
The general feeling is that “the crisis has passed,” when it comes to Covid-19. However, the group will continue and in fact, already has their minds set towards the future.
“Now, if there is another emergency, we have a structure set up,” said Sammet. It’s impossible to say what the next emergency Hardwick may face will be, but the email address, the phone line, and the network of dedicated neighbors has been established.
Although the Hardwick Neighbors to Neighbors program is relatively new, the mindset and dedication of the group is no novelty.
In Hardwick, “Neighbors depending on neighbors is a normal thing,” Sammet said.