By Martha Bezzat
Since launching in the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, Malden Neighbors Helping Neighbors (MNHN) continues to make a profound impact on Malden households by connecting those in need with resources.
Formed by Malden resident Meera Krishnan — inspired by her own sister’s Newton Facebook group — her husband, AJ Kumar, and James Meickle, leader of a neighborhood mutual aid group, MNHN has blossomed from a tight knit group of “lead organizers” who interface with local and state agencies and officials to navigate larger issues. It now includes a network of “neighborhood point persons” who daily process requests through the organization’s website and Facebook page.
To date, the all-volunteer organization has helped more than 600 households with such tasks as food delivery, housing/financial assistance (through referrals to ABCD, Housing Families, CityLife, and others), and prescription pick-up. Volunteers have also managed yardwork, furniture moves, and assisting with baby equipment. Lead organizers and neighborhood point people, working from their computers, coordinate delivery volunteers (delivering weekly to now 80 households), check-in-callers, generous donors, and all-around support from city officials, including Malden’s Manager of Community Outreach, Karen Hayes, and State Rep. Steve Ultrino. Volunteers have also worked with long-established organizations like Bread of Life and the Malden YMCA.
Asked how she’s personally seen MNHN change lives, Krishnan recalled a woman who needed an air conditioner during the summer due to a disability, and MNHN raised funds to buy her one. She recalls connecting a couple to free groceries and rental assistance resources after they’d both lost their jobs and helped them through the RAFT/ERMA program to pay back rent.
“I have two small children, and it’s tough to see parents who are really trying to support their families left with no options due to job losses,” Krishnan said. “It’s hard to hear the anxiety in these parents’ voices and know that so many are in the same boat.”
Fellow lead organizers Kit Bridge, Anna Geoffrey, and Zayda Ortiz have all spoken at Malden City Council meetings on pertinent issues related to MNHN’s work, highlighting in particular the great needs around housing and eviction issues, as well as how vulnerable households were even more at risk at falling through the cracks after the pandemic. Many people on the edge were pushed over that edge in 2020, they say.
Another lead organizer, Akola Krishnan, mother of Meera Krishnan, has also worked tirelessly — remotely from Indiana, no less — championing households faced with the most urgent housing needs. Ying Craver, Don Luchini, and Barbara Kim also play vital roles in the organization as volunteer coordinator, front lines contact, and coordinator of masks distribution, respectively.
MNHN has not gone unnoticed by those outside Malden. Eric Hansen, director of External Relations at Partners in Health, and part of the Community Tracing Collaborative, is quoted on the MNHN GoFundMe page as saying, “MNHN has been an exceptional and collaborative resource to our cases/contacts in Malden….We appreciate their close partnership with Bread of Life, the YMCA, and Greater Malden Asian American Community Coalition (GMAACC).”
Lead organizers raised over $11,000 on that GoFundMe page and they have also provided financial statements on all their spending to maintain transparency.
The MNHN Facebook Page was the start-up format for the group; it has now added many online platforms for its internal operations, including Trello and Slack, to sustain growth.
Although the volunteers face compassion fatigue, a reality for volunteers in mutual aid groups, there is no break on the horizon, as COVID-19 cases have been spiking in Massachusetts. According to state data, as of Nov. 19, Massachusetts has had a total of 192,050 cases. As of Nov. 18, Malden has had 2,210 cases with an average daily incident rate of 34 per 100,000 for a positivity rate of 4.58 percent.
As one of the “neighborhood point persons” since June, I have seen how MNHN recruits volunteers, matches volunteers with households, sends weekly emails to volunteer drivers for food delivery, and debriefs on weekly Zooms. What I saw firsthand in these busy, but amazing, five months has astonished and impressed me beyond what I thought was capable in a grassroots volunteer organization.
MNHN has an ongoing need for volunteers with cars who can make pickups and deliveries for Malden residents, as well as donations, both monetary and in-kind. More information can be found on their website at maldenneighbors.org.
Martha Bezzat is a citizen journalist for Neighborhood View, an Education Support Professional at the Beebe School, and an active member of several community groups in Malden.