Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
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.