Kristina Hawley saw a pattern of struggles and decided she had to help her fellow Brier residents amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She had noticed in comments and posts on social media that some local people who needed assistance didn’t know where to get support or were hesitant to ask others for help. Hawley also realized there were people in the community who wanted to help those in need, but they weren’t necessarily sure how to best go about it.
“I saw neighbors who were effectively falling through the cracks, and I wanted to provide a way to connect the people in need with the people who wanted to help them,” she said.
Last August, Hawley reached out to the Brier community group on Facebook asking if anyone else was interested in figuring a way to help people locally. Shortly afterward the nonprofit organization Brier Helping Brier was born out of the efforts of Hawley and other like-minded individuals. “I was delighted to find myself joined by a committee of wonderful folks who all share my desire to give back and support our community,” she said.
Organization chair Pat Rhoads, who has nearly 20 years of previous nonprofit marketing experience, said after coming across Hawley’s idea to establish a charitable group online, he recognized its importance and subsequently volunteered. “Not a lot of people were wanting necessarily to post publicly (online), ‘Hey, I’m struggling,’” he said. So the charitable organization was set up to facilitate coordination between “folks who wanted to help their neighbors and then neighbors who needed the help,” Rhoads said.
The group had its first fundraising effort ready to go in time for the holidays selling their “Bananas for Brier” shirts. Those shirts played off of a long-running joke about bananas among the local community.
Since then, the nonprofit organization has held a number of other charitable activities to help locals struggling to meet their needs. Those include a mixture of calendar-based fundraisers with themes such as a “Step Up for Brier” exercise challenge in January and a “Love Your Neighbor” Valentine’s Day basket delivery in February, partnering with local businesses for promotions, and creating additional original clothing designs for sale online.
So far, Brier Helping Brier has managed to raise more than $7,000 and disbursed more than $4,000 of that to several local households seeking assistance. They offer to help people who may be suffering from a job loss or experiencing other financial hardships such as struggling to pay for groceries or gas. The nonprofit has an application for aid online and help is typically provided in the form of various types of gift cards to help with basic needs.
About 10 volunteer participants usually meet weekly by Zoom to discuss plans, provide updates and focus their efforts. It is a mixture of those with formal roles such as treasurer, donor outreach, and volunteer and fundraising coordinators, along with others who have informal roles but, Rhoads said, are “still very actively involved.” The members donated their own funds to get Brier Helping Brier registered as a charitable organization and establish it legally.
Each volunteer brings different skillsets and perspectives to the table, which participants say has benefited the young organization. “We have a lot of incredibly smart and talented people,” which Rhoads said has helped, “because if it was just my expertise we wouldn’t have been nearly as successful as we’ve been so far.”
Besides helping Brier residents directly, the organization recently announced it made an $820 donation to Concern for Neighbors Food Bank after two separate theft incidents in February. In the first, thieves stole computers, several thousand dollars of gift cards and a set of keys from the food bank, which added another $2,000 in costs to change all the locks. Less than a week later, the food bank van was broken into and stolen. The van has since been recovered.
Members of the Brier group said that feedback received about their overall efforts to date has been overwhelmingly positive.“The community as a whole really seems to love the idea of having a real simple, local bridge between families that want to help and families that need help,” Rhoads said. He also noted that beneficiaries of assistance have expressed gratitude for how quickly the group responds to applications and makes decisions.
Hawley said making Brier Helping Brier a reality has been personally rewarding on several levels. “It warms my heart every time we are able to help a person or family in need,” she said. In addition, she has enjoyed working with and getting to know people on the committee, “some of whom would not normally be in my typical social circles due to differences in age, politics, hobbies, etc.”
She emphasized it is important not only to be empathetic, but also to help destigmatize when people have to ask for assistance. “Everyone falls on hard times sometimes, and it’s not a moral failing to be in need,” Hawley said. Recognizing that people facing financial hardships can find day-to-day life challenging to navigate she wants the organization to reflect a sense of community values in its decisions.
Brier Helping Brier’s volunteer efforts will continue to be focused on a mission of helping to get people back on their feet. “This can mean anything from providing direct financial aid to helping create social connections so aid recipients can expand their networks for job opportunities, locate affordable medical care, and get linked up with other resources beyond what we can provide ourselves,” Hawley said.
The organization is currently working to establish its own website outside of social media. “I’m sure you’ll see more (fundraising) events from us here in the next couple months.” Rhoads said, adding that he looked forward to a time when they could hold in-person community functions.
Anyone interested in contacting the nonprofit about donations, help or fundraising events can email BrierHelpingBrier@gmail.com.
— By Nathan Blackwell