By Celina Colby

Bonnie Bastien launched Mutual Aid Brookline (MAB) at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to meet the needs of community members getting hit with unemployment, food shortages, and lack of childcare options. What she’s created has become a model for an ideal Brookline community, where neighbors help each other out in times of need regardless of status, a model that will ideally live on long after a COVID-19 vaccine.

The system works very simply; if community members are in need, they fill out a Google Doc explaining what help they are seeking. Then, through e-mail blasts and networking, MAB finds someone in town that can supply the necessary items, services, or funds.

“We exist between all of the institutions in Brookline like the food pantry and the Safety Net Fund. We are the ones that catch everyone that falls between those because they all have their limits,” says Bastien. “If all the institutions were large stones in a river, we are the water in between them keeping it all together.”

In the beginning, Bastien says it was mostly about meeting immediate needs like food access and medicine through a community delivery system. For example, when someone can’t stand in line at the food pantry or isn’t able to leave their home for vital items. Funds for childcare services, particularly for essential workers, were also a big push during the first months of the pandemic.

One of the things that makes MAB so effective is that it’s not a formal institution.

“We are a bunch of community volunteers. We’re not paid, we’re not a nonprofit, we’re just neighbors helping neighbors,” says Bastien. “That’s the great thing about not being part of the government; we don’t have any red tape we just do.”

But that doesn’t mean the group has abandoned the town government. Bastien is a Town Meeting member and hopes to use that platform to bring these resource disparities to the forefront, as well as issues like police brutality.

Bastien utilized the model of the Mutual Aid Medford and Somerville (MAMAS) organization to create MAB Brookline. MAMAS has prepared documents to help other towns start up their own mutual aid system. But after an initial surge when the program launched, donations have decreased alongside the initial panic of COVID-19. Bastien reminds Brookline that though the needs may not always be visible, they’re still present.

Community members can contribute to the effort in several ways, including volunteering to make deliveries or coordinate exchanges, donating money by check, Venmo or CashApp, or filling out an online survey with resources you have available to provide.

Bastien underscores that this is not about the haves giving to the have-nots; it’s about supporting everyone in the community equally. “This is very much not charity,” says Bastien. “We’re trying to build a community. This is a model for how the world should work…people provide what they have for people who need it.”