By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer
Northborough/Southborough – Neighbors helping neighbors. That is the mission of the Neighbor Brigade, a nonprofit, charitable organization, which coordinates a network of volunteers to provide free assistance to people who are experiencing a sudden or temporary crisis in their lives. The Northborough Southborough Neighbor Brigade chapter held a successful gift card drive in November, and is now looking to help brighten the holidays for local families who are facing hardships.
Northborough residents Judy Boyle and Mary Leach and Southborough resident Val Hickey currently co-lead the local chapter.
Gift cards for gas and grocery stores were donated by community members. If you or someone you know in Northborough or Southborough is facing a hardship this holiday season, you can privately provide a brief description of the need to the Neighbor Brigade by email at [email protected]. The request will be reviewed as there is a limited amount of gift cards available. All information will be kept confidential.
“It takes courage to reach out,” said Leach.
The organization was founded by Pam Washek, Leach’s twin sister, and her close friend Jean Seiden, who were both diagnosed with cancer in 2002.
“During treatment, they were supported by neighbors and strangers from the community who were bringing meals or bringing kids to activities so they could focus on their recovery,” said Leach.
During remission, they established the nonprofit Wayland Angels in 2003 to pay it forward and to coordinate acts of kindness for others. The vision was to expand the reach, which Washek did in 2010 as Wayland Angels transitioned into Neighbor Brigade.
Neighbor Brigade’s mission is to provide short term crisis assistance to people who may be receiving cancer treatments, facing an illness, recovering from an accident or house fire, or grieving a family death. Typically the assistance is a maximum of three to four months.
“It’s designed to get people through a treatment or accident,” said Leach. “We are there to fill in when family and friends cannot.”
Washek lost her battle with cancer in 2012, but her gift of sharing kindness and time remains strong. The Neighbor Brigade now has 30 chapters, and collectively has performed over 3,000 acts of kindness in 2020, an increase of 73 percent from 2019.
“This was her (Pam’s) passion and kept her going through her battle,” said Boyle. “Her dying wish was to have a chapter in every single community nationwide. She was inspired by the outpouring of support and love from perfect strangers, which is really the genuine message behind neighbors helping neighbors.”
The Northborough Southborough chapter currently has 97 volunteers who have performed 87 acts of kindness this year. The biggest challenge according to Leach is to find volunteers to make deliveries. Volunteers are always prescreened and trained.
Although the pandemic has changed some of the organization’s activities, volunteers typically can deliver meals, shop for groceries, run errands, walk a dog, mow a lawn, shovel snow, or transport someone to a medical appointment.
Leach and Boyle said they hope that the holiday effort will serve as an inspiration to a lot of people who are struggling this year.
Visit the Neighbor Brigade’s website at https://neighborbrigade.org for more information on the organization, how you can donate or how you can become a volunteer, or call 855- 241-HELP (4357). You can also follow the organization on Facebook.