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  • Writer's pictureNewton Neighbors

2020 In-Review

Updated: Aug 22, 2023


Community support activities led by NNHN coordinators

  1. Facebook group: NNHN began with the formation of the Facebook group on March 8, 2020. The Facebook group now has over 4,200 members, ranging from individual neighbors in the community to business owners and government officials, including several city council members.

    • The group admins moderate the group discussion to keep it focused on community-building and ways to support one another.

    • The group serves as an active hub where neighbors and organizations can connect one-to-one to support one another directly, or to organize around broader efforts to support communities, local agencies, and healthcare providers. Posts include requests from individual neighbors for groceries, clothing, and other necessary supplies; information sharing around local, city, state and national resources; and ideas for how neighbors and local businesses can assist one another during the pandemic. There have been more than 550 posts tagged “Help Needed” to date.

    • NNHN coordinators sometimes post on behalf of individuals who have come to us with requests and use the group to find volunteers who can help.

  2. “Casework”: working to support an individual person’s need and doing direct coordination to find volunteers who can help. NNHN has primarily helped facilitate food support (e.g., buying and dropping off groceries for a neighbor) or provision of other basic supplies (e.g., winter coat, vacuum cleaner, thermometer, books) for neighbors who make individual requests. Early on, we coordinated the transfer of some financial resources from neighbor to neighbor and we have also helped some neighbors apply for available funds (e.g., COVID-19 Care Fund). When working with individual community members, we also connect them to the Newton Dept of Social Services or the Senior Center whenever possible and share information about other services such as food pantries.

    • Individual requests come to us through three main avenues:

      1. Google form: In March, we developed a Google form for people who want to help and people who need support. This has been distributed throughout the community and translated into 8 languages. In the first few months of the pandemic this was actively used as a way for people to request help, but it is not used as much now. This form also formed the basis of our mailing list. We have worked on XX requests that were submitted through this form.

      2. Requests from social workers and other partners: we have developed partnerships with several social workers/resource coordinators at local agencies (e.g., FamilyACCESS, Newton Public Schools, Thom Charles River Early Intervention, Newton Wellesley Hospital, Newton Housing Authority) who come to us directly when their clients have needs we can help with. We have also received several requests from the PIH contact tracing collaborative.

      3. Direct requests from community members: now that we are better known, some community members reach out directly via FB messenger or to our email box to request assistance.

    • Casework examples:

      1. NNHN worked with a neighbor who was struggling to apply for the United Way COVID Care Fund because she did not understand the application process and was having difficulty compiling the necessary documentation in the right formats. We worked with her and with FamilyACCESS to ensure she was able to successfully access these funds.

      2. A family that experienced the passing of their main income earner reached out to us to look for some support in bridging the gap while another family member sought employment opportunities. NNHN along with our volunteers collected many bags of groceries, gift cards and clothing items for the family to help support them while they got back on their feet.

      3. A neighbor was unable to get their medication from a local drugstore due to illness. We connected them with a volunteer who picked up the medication and delivered it to them.

  3. Ongoing projects

    • Food pantry delivery: Since April, we have been coordinating regular deliveries from three local food pantries (Newton Food Pantry, Centre St Food Pantry, and the American Legion Post 440 mobile food bank). Over the summer we also coordinated deliveries from the Grab n Go meal program in partnership with the West Suburban YMCA and Project Driveway. Almost all of the families we deliver to have been referred by NPS social workers. This project involves coordinating schedule and delivery routes as well as volunteer recruitment and management. We have completed more than 1500 deliveries to date.

    • Mask making and distribution: We have coordinated a group of volunteer sewers to make over 1200 masks to-date, and have also gotten mask donations from the MetroWest Sewing group and some individual neighbors. We have distributed these masks to NPS students, Cradles to Crayons, Dimock Health Center, Upham’s Corner Health Center, Jewish Family & Children’s Services, Centre St Food Pantry, Newton Food Pantry, Arabic Baptist Church Food Pantry, Mass Dept of Agriculture, John M. Barry Boys & Girls Club, Newton Housing Authority, and a school in Waltham)

    • Tutor finder project: NNHN created a Google form-based system to help parents looking for tutors for their children find potential tutors who might be a good fit for their needs. In 10 months, 90 prospective tutors completed the form indicating their interest in tutoring children.

  4. Completed projects

    • Social worker holiday thank you: At the end of the year we provided thank you cards and homemade cookies to 31 social workers in recognition of all they do to support the community.

    • Small business kits: In the spring, we organized an initiative in partnership with local businesses and community agencies in which community members purchased entertainment and education kits from local small businesses which were then distributed to low-income seniors and young children in our community. We organized a similar effort in the winter to support purchasing and distribution of holiday gift kits for the Village Bank toy drive and other local families in need. Well over 200 kits were purchased and gifted in the spring, 77 kits were donated to the Village Bank drive, and several additional ones were gifted to local families in the winter.

  5. Porch drives: we have organized roughly 15 “porch drives” in which we organize collection of various goods to provide to local organizations or to families referred by partner agencies. We have organized drives to collect diapers, clothes, winter gear, toys, school supplies, household supplies, cloth for making masks, and food.

    • Porch drive examples:

      1. For one of our first porch drives, we organized a 3-part drive to collect nonperishable food for the Chelsea Salvation Army and the 12th Baptist Church in Roxbury, diapers for Jewish Family & Children’s Services, and cloth for the MetroWest sewing group’s mask-making efforts.

      2. We collected winter gear (coats, hats, gloves, boots, and/or snow pants) for 22 children living in a public housing complex in Waltham. This started because we saw a post on the Waltham Mutual Aid FB group in which a resident of the housing complex asked about winter gear collection - we got in touch with her and organized the drive from there.

      3. When Coleman House, a senior housing facility serving more than 140 low-income seniors in Newton, lost food due to an extended power outage from a storm, NNHN members came together to donate 140 quantities of loaves of bread, cartons of eggs, gallons of milk, cheese, hamburger, and chicken for these seniors.

  6. Fundraising: we have organized efforts to raise funds to support local organizations as well as vulnerable and marginalized individuals. In general, we have been successful at raising $2-3k quickly (within roughly a week) for each individual cause. Our biggest fundraiser was raising funds for grocery cards around Thanksgiving in which we raised more than $4500.

    • For organizations: We raised money to buy two months worth of food for the Arabic Baptist Church food pantry and to help Coleman House recover from loss of food due to a power outage (in addition to mobilizing the group to donate food as described above).

    • For individuals: We have organized fundraisers to benefit individuals, working with a range of partners. For example, we raised funds for LGBTQ+ people in Boston (with SURJ Boston), undocumented people in the Boston area (with Brandeis professor Jessica Santos and a community partner), immigrant and undocumented families in Waltham (with Thom Charles River Early Intervention), and undocumented people in Brockton (with Brockton Workers Alliance). These fundraisers are primarily done through Venmo.

  7. Translation support: we have used our network to find volunteer translators to translate documents about local services, including flyers about NNHN to distribute in food pantry bags and the City of Newton’s flyer about the Grab and Go meal program.

Using the NNHN platform to promote or support efforts led by other organizations

  1. Promoting local organizations and initiatives: We have used our platform (Facebook group and newsletter) to promote efforts led by other organizations. In these cases, we publicized the initiatives and highlighted needs, but didn’t take an active role in coordinating or organizing. For example, on FB and in our newsletters, we have promoted our local food pantries and their donation needs, Newton Housing Authority’s gift card drive, Franklin Elementary School’s Coats for Kids drive, the West Suburban YMCA’s fall fundraiser, among many other things.

Other organizational activities

  1. Communications: We have compiled an email list of people interested in NNHN’s work, and have sent out 31 newsletters sharing updates and opportunities with the community.

  2. Assessment and evaluation

    • With the help of our interns, we have compiled and summarized data from our FB group and the request submitted through the Google form, documented quotes from community members that illustrate NNHN’s impact, and organized information about porch drives and other projects. We also designed a feedback survey that we sent out to the community at the end of the summer.

    • We partnered with Newton Food Pantry on a community needs assessment over the summer. We trained NFP staff/interns and our own interns on qualitative interviewing methods, helped design an interview guide, and conducted several interviews with community stakeholders. Interviews gathered feedback about NNHN as well as information about community needs, priorities, and barriers to accessing services.

Press mentions and awards

In October, NNHN was recognized with the West Suburban YMCA’s 2020 Community Partner Award: “While every Community Partner and Supporter is valued beyond measure, the WSYMCA annually recognizes one partner that demonstrates the qualities that have enabled the West Suburban YMCA to deliver community strengthening programs and services over the past year. Nominees are supporters in all ways up to and including: volunteerism, in-kind support, expertise, capital campaign support, annual campaign support and advocacy.”

We have also been featured in the Newton TAB, the Patch, and the Boston Globe.

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