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COURIER L 12 IFE, DECEMBER 25-31, 2020
Acts of kindness!
Locals launch mutual aid in Gowanus
BY KEVIN DUGGAN
Gowanus residents recently
launched a mutual aid effort for neighbors
living near Brooklyn’s noxious
canal to help each other amid the ongoing
“Through all this time, mutual aid
groups popped up all around us, but
never really focussed specifi cally on the
Gowanus area,” said Ava Cotlowitz, who
helped found Gowanus Mutual Aid.
The volunteer support networks
boomed in the borough when the novel
coronavirus fi rst brought the city to a
standstill in the spring, spurring experienced
activists and people newly out of
a job or working from home to organize
and directly help out their neighbors.
While some of those efforts have
since waned, Cotlowitz — an elementary
school teacher at Public School 32
in nearby Park Slope — saw that many
local families were still struggling due
to COVID-related stresses when she
welcomed kids back in September.
“I kept seeing that there was this
gap for families who weren’t getting
what they needed,” she said.
The school’s regular toy and coat
drives didn’t happen this year due to
pandemic restrictions, so Cotlowitz decided
that mutual aid was the way to go.
She and other local activists tapped
the larger networks West Brooklyn Waterfront
Mutual Aid — which sources
volunteers from Brooklyn Heights,
Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, Cobble
Hill, and the Columbia Street Waterfront
District — and the citywide
Mutual Aid NYC to help them set up
a Gowanus operation, which offi cially
launched in November and has since
grown to some 100 volunteers.
The bulk of their requests are
for grocery deliveries and other essentials,
such as personal protective
equipment and cleaning supplies, and
Cotlowitz said the group has already
distributed $2,200-worth of goods.
They have also connected Gowanusaurs
with other organizations for
housing rights issues, building maintenance,
Gowanus Mutual Aid co-founder Ava Cotlowitz
and organizer Tiane. Gowanus Mutual Aid
help with job applications,
and navigating social services.
Many of those needs come from
the local New York City Housing Authority
projects, Gowanus Houses and
Wyckoff Gardens, and the mutual aid
counts several public housing residents
among its volunteers who help
direct resources there, Cotlowitz said.
More recently, the group opened
the neighborhood’s fi rst so-called
“free store” on the corner of Bond and
Douglass streets, where folks can give
or take goods including books, clothes,
toiletries, or non-perishable food. “The
motto of it is give what you can and
take what you need,” Cotlowitz said.
Items left at the free store have so
far ranged from kids bikes and a baby
stroller, to backpacks, school supplies,
and mac-and-cheese packs for anyone
to take. Volunteers check on it twice a
day to make sure it’s intact and clean.
While mutual aid networks slowed
down as the city reopened during the
summer, offi cials have warned of a
second wave of the virus emerging,
along with a possible second full-scale
shutdown of non-essential businesses,
despite the new COVID-19 vaccines.
New restrictions could augur a renewed
interest in mutual aid, but Cotlowitz
believes that the networks are
here to stay beyond the pandemic.
“Building a community of neighbors
that care about each other, that
should never go away,” she said. “It is
timeless and can be built upon.”
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