BRUNSWICK — During the first week of January, in the midst of a blizzard that closed schools and businesses across the state, Sarah Singer found herself driving a UHaul to Buxton.
Singer wasn’t moving. She was picking up roughly $1,500 in donated water for residents of Bay Bridge Estates, the mobile home park off Route 1 where hundreds of people were without sufficient water last month.
Singer is the co-founder of the Emergency Action Network, a nonprofit community group that helps bring resources to Brunswick children and families in need.
The Bay Bridge Estates crisis was slightly outside of the organization’s typical scope, but after it received word that 100 households in the park had children who attend Brunswick schools, its board got to work.
Singer said the group used donated grocery cards to buy more water to supplement the larger donation. Fire Chief Ken Brilliant and Deputy Chief Donald Koslosky also unload the truck.
The need, Singer said, was tremendous.
“I feel like it would be easy to say, ‘Why don’t people just go buy some water, what’s the big deal?'” she said. “Well, you have to have a car and you have to have money, and there were clearly a lot of people there getting water for their neighbors and elderly folks.”
Singer formed network in summer 2016 with Teresa Kelly Gillis; both of them serve on the School Board. Both women also have children in the school system.
The group primarily collects donated clothes and other basic necessitie,s such as baby gear, furniture and hygiene supplies, for underprivileged students and their families. Members of the advisory board post messages asking for items through a Facebook page and via an email list to donors, or “allies” as they’re often called.
Singer and Gillis launched the effort after an urgent call two summers ago from Assistant Superintendent of Schools Pender Makin, who told them of a family that had lost their housing and needed a tent.
Singer ended up donating a tent, but said she and Gillis knew something more needed to be done, and that administrators and teachers were already going above and beyond to support students’ needs outside of school.
“I remember I was like, ‘I’m going to give you this tent, but there has got to be something else,'” Singer said.
Gillis and Singer met with Makin, and came up with the idea to start an email chain asking for donations, following referrals from school professionals and social workers. Pretty soon, however, they learned Facebook would be a better way to get the word out.
Approximately a year and a half after the network’s forming, the Facebook group now has 750 allies, and the email list has another unique 500 or 600 people.
Singer and Maggie Vaughn Jansson, another member of the advisory board who works as a pediatric nurse case manager, said the group is a bit “shoe string,” but that’s what makes it work.
Taking the bureaucracy out of the process and getting people what they need as soon as possible, they said, is an important aspect of the network’s mission.
“I hope no matter what our growth model looks like, because we have a plan to grow and do more, I hope we’re able to maintain this agility,” Jansson said.
Looking ahead, she added, part of that growth could involve helping nearby communities launch their own action networks. Some, like Portland and Falmouth, have expressed interest.
The advisory board, which also includes Erin Mangalam, Elizabeth Sokoloff and Sarah Stadnicki, would also like to have a physical location one day, Singer said.
In addition to taking financial pressure off school staff, Jansson said she thinks the group is “shining a light” on poverty in Brunswick.
Singer echoed that sentiment, and said the network helps with the “surface aggravation” that can come with living in poverty, such as children not having access to laundry or coats and snow boots in the winter. The group sources more than clothes, too; it once helped an entire family get mattresses and bedding.
More recently, it provided clean clothes and hygeine products to a student who was unable to shower or do laundry at home.
“Who knows what his home situation is, but we can make it possible that when he comes to school, he has what he needs,” she said.
Sarah Singer, left, Maggie Jansson, Erin Mangalam, Elizabeth Sokoloff, Teresa Gillis and Sarah Stadnicki are the advisory board of the Emergency Action Network. The community group sources donations of necessary items for Brunswick students and their families.
A car with donated bedding sourced by Brunswick’s Emergency Action Network.
Donated water sourced by the Emergency Action Network in early January for residents of Bay Bridge Estates, the Brunswick mobile home park where water rationing left many without sufficient water last month.