Perusing a paper for parents this past March, mom Jenna Jankowski came upon an ad for volunteers.
“Why can’t I cook a meal for a neighbor?” she said she asked herself, adding Why can't I provide other help for a neighbor in the middle of a temporary crisis?
No stranger to volunteering, Jankowski found the opportunity “perfect,” she said, because it requires no minimum number of hours, no long-term commitment.
Only one problem: there is no chapter of the Neighbor Brigade, which offers those services, here in Woburn—yet.
Jankowski is working to start one to pair city residents who want to extend a hand to fellow residents who need some help temporarily.
Residents in need may have a serious illness, or be recuperating from surgery, a sudden accident or a tragedy, according to Jankowski.
They might need a meal, a local ride or even homework help for a student.
The service is not based on the recipient’s financial need, Jankowski said.
The Neighbor Brigade started in 2003 when, Jankowski said, a Wayland mom, Pam Wachek, started to deliver meals to a friend in her community when the friend was diagnosed with cancer. Then the service expanded to include rides, errands and homework help, she said. The organization now has 17 chapters, all in Massachusetts, according to Jankowski.
The be-local requirement makes the service practical, Jankowski said. “Why deliver meals three towns away?”
When Jankowski found that Woburn has no Neighbor Brigade, she said she thought, “Somebody’s got to do it.”
She needs 25 volunteers to be listed on the organization’s website.
A calendar on that site would list residents’ needs. Volunteers would sign up for a specific day and task.
The organization is completely volunteer-driven, Jankowski said. If you'd be willing to drive someone to a local appointment, you would sign up to do that once—or more. Uncomfortable with that idea? Prepare a meal instead.
What kind of meal?
“Whatever you’re cooking for your family, make some more,” Jankowski said. The calendar would say how many people need a meal, she said—maybe two people, maybe four. If a recipient had an allergy, he or she would notify Jankowski, she said.
When she first came home from the hospital after delivering her son, Jankowski remembered a neighbor bringing her a meal, the neighbor’s “famous macaroni and cheese.” Neighbor Brigade volunteers don’t handle such deliveries, Jankowski said, because other organizations do.
Jankowski has no gauge on the need for a Neighbor Brigade in Woburn.
Wayland, which has had a chapter eight years, has 400 volunteers, she said.
Jankowski expected to volunteer “every now and then” with an already-formed organization. She has compiled a strong volunteer resume.
“Of course” she volunteered as a kid, she said. She tutored students through the Big Brother, Big Sister program, she said.
Now she volunteers at her church in Lexington, with a congregation of 3,000, she said. About twice a month, she prepares materials for the roughly 500 children who attend Sunday programs at the church, she explained. She looks at the curriculum and prepares handouts.
She and a friend also started and ran a cupcake business for about a year, Sweet & Lopez.
Why volunteer with the Woburn Neighbor Brigade? A Woburn resident for nine years, Jankowski said a lot of her friends are stay-at-home moms who think, “We should do something.”
“I thought, ‘What could we do, with kids?’”
“People will help,” she said, “if you make it easy.”
Setting up the local chapter will take more time than keeping it running every month, the prospective local chapter organizer noted.
Pam Wachek, who started the non-profit organization with the chapter in her community, Wayland, oversees all the individual chapters, according to Jankowski.
“I want to help people,” Jankowski said. “I can’t until I have an army of volunteers ready to go.” She doesn’t have an army yet, but she does have her first volunteer: her mother.
To learn more about plans for the Woburn Neighbor Brigade, and to volunteer, contact Jankowski at woburnMA@neighborbrigade.org.