Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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Mr Rogers

I was a huge Mr. Rogers fan. He sang that catchy neighbor song, and told us we were fine just the way we are, and assured us that when the water goes down the bathtub drain, we definitely wouldn’t go with it. You could believe a guy like that. Turns out he was right about the tub drain.

He was right about neighbors, too.

In my novel DEEP DOWN TRUE, Dana Stellgarten is a newly divorced mom with loads of problems of her own. Nevertheless she finds time to cook dinners for a young family with a dad with cancer, through a “fictitious” organization called Comfort Food.

I have an admission to make: Comfort Food is real.

I lifted it—lock, stock and disposable pan—from an organization I belong to called Neighbor Brigade. It was started by two women in my town who received numerous dinners during their own bouts of cancer. Today Neighbor Brigade is growing like every fabulous idea should, and is now in nineteen cities and towns in Massachusetts.

Here’s a story from their latest newsletter:

A Norfolk family has three children, ages 2, 4, and 8. After complaining of head pain and subsequent treatment for an ‘ear infection’ for over a month, their 4-year-old  was diagnosed with a tumor in her skull. She has been responding well to treatment, but treatments are difficult, time consuming and nearly an hour away from home. Her mom wrote recently:

“You have no idea how nice it was to come home and have dinner all ready for us. I was getting ready to go in the house and heat up leftovers from three days ago but I was not looking forward to it! I saw the meal in our milk box and it was like finding a pot of gold! You have no idea how it made my night. We just got through a very long, nail biting day and have another nervous night ahead of us. She is miserable and just wants me next to her, so to have dinner all done for me so I can cuddle on the couch with her, is such a blessing you will never know! Please pass this thank you on to whoever was so nice to make this meal for us!”

Of course, we all want to help a friend or neighbor who’s experiencing that kind of crisis. But what Pam Washek, co-founder and executive director of Neighbor Brigade figured out is:

1. We don’t always know our neighbors.
2. We don’t always know when they’re hurting.
3. We want to know, and we want to help.

Since 2003, Pam and company have honed the program to a dazzling example of compassion and efficiency. They even post what the prior volunteer cooked, so the family doesn’t get chili six times in a row. And there’s no big commitment–you help when you have the time.

If you’d like to start a Neighbor Brigade in your own town, Pam and her team have made it very easy with clear steps and guidelines.

The great and saintly Fred Rogers has gone on to his reward. I’d like to think that when he wrote that wonderful song, reaching out like the Neighbor Brigade does was just the kind of thing he had in mind.

May his neighborliness live on in all of us.

5 Responses to “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

  1. Marie Donnelly Says:

    April 23rd, 2011 at 10:06 am

    Love this post! I too have always loved Mr. Rogers…even thought many people were turned off by him Lots of jokes made about the guy over the years. I would have loved to have met him!
    I’m in the local chapter (Middleboro) and hope we can start helping families soon. Wonderful organization…

  2. Kristen Iwai Says:

    April 21st, 2011 at 1:06 am

    I loved this post. What a moving story about the start and growth of Neighbor Brigade … and how cool that you’ve spread the word about it in your wonderful book!

  3. Maureen DeJong Says:

    April 16th, 2011 at 9:40 am

    A quick shout out to Juliette for her wonderful books (looking forward to the next one – keep ’em coming!) and to Pam Washek and the Neighbor Brigade – it’s been exciting to see this wonderful organization grow and to know that there are more people reaching out and more people getting the support they need.

  4. Juliette Says:

    April 8th, 2011 at 8:12 am

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Rebecca. You will certainly find the spirit of Pam’s compassion in the story!

  5. Rebecca Ross Says:

    April 7th, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    So often we read a story and see ourselves or others we know in the characters and storyline. I look forward to reading your book and look for my niece, Pamela, in its pages. She certainly is a heroic and inspiring woman.

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