Recently, the non-profit Neighbor to Neighbor Network held an appreciation party at the Bloomfield Knights of Columbus to honor its volunteers.
The focus of the party was to acknowledge all the volunteers who’ve contributed time and efforts to NTNN. “They’re giving all year round. This is our night to give back to them and acknowledge how terrific they are,” said Human Services Supervisor Paula Peikes. “Our programs are all working together and this is the night to share their stories.”
NTNN, which is funded in part by the Mountainside Health Foundation, started in 2008. The program was designed to “fill in the gaps where government programs aren’t available to help our residents,” Peikes said. “We help with an inability navigate the system.”
One way NTNN serves Bloomfield is through providing home services to those who can’t afford aid but aren’t eligible for assistance. “We’re the liaison for those who can’t get services or qualify for services but can’t get to it,” Peikes said. “That’s what makes our program so special.”
The idea for NTNN’s formation started with Mayor McCarthy. “He had a vision that the interfaith organizations would get together and help the community,” Peikes said. She credits LUMMUS for being one of the first corporate givers and NTNN’s partnership with the Montclair food pantry for helping NTNN expand its range.
NTNN progressed further with the help of a grant from Partners in Health. “[This enabled us] to get our board and programs more organized, [which] helped us to have the funding to grow our programs, specifically ‘adopt a grandparent’ and the food pantry,” Peikes said. Specifically, Peikes commends Karen Lori, Acting Director of Health and Human Services, for being instrumental in NTNN’s development. “She’s a visionary as far as growing the network,” Peikes said.
Mayor McCarthy was on hand at the party to present plaques to Kathy Smith, Program Officer of Partners for Health and Danise Taboadela, who runs the Bloomfield Animal Shelter’s fundraising committee. McCarthy also gave certificates to every volunteer in NTNN’s programs: friendly visitor, food delivery, and the animal shelter.
The Friendly Visitor program organizes volunteers with people in the community who require assistance with tasks such as shopping, a ride somewhere, or simply someone to spend time with them. “These things are all important to mental health,” Peikes said. “Everyone plays a specific role in the lives of the people they help. The role is defined by what they need and what the volunteer is willing to give.” NTNN assesses pairings based on volunteers’ schedules, preferred activity, background, and personality.
The food delivery program provides food to entitled pantry recipients based on need. “If you’re low income, you can get food from the food pantry,” Peikes says. “The way you get it delivered [through NTNN] is if you don’t have a way to get to the food pantry, or any other barriers to transportation.” Qualifying candidates include the elderly, disabled, and young mothers.
NTNN receives client referrals from Human Services, social workers, and the police. They also welcome suggestions and have accepted calls from employees of banks, grocery stores, and “anywhere [one] sees people who aren’t able to manage on their own,” Peikes said. Anyone who reports to NTNN is kept confidential.
One of Peikes’s objectives is for people to know that NTNN is there for those who need it. “There is a volunteer network in the community if you need assistance or if you have extra time to give. What makes a community is people helping each other and connecting to each other,” she said. “We can find something that you can do. Everyone has something to give.”
The highlight of the party for Peikes came when she observed all the volunteers assembled in one place. “You see the room filled with people who are so willing to give of themselves and not get paid,” she said. “What starts out as perfect strangers… [transforms into] this network of people. It’s almost overwhelming how big it’s become.”
Local establishments provided amenities for the party. Brookside Garden Center gave flowers for table centerpieces. Nanina’s and the Brookdale Shop Rite donated food. NTNN also paid for an open bar for the event.
Peikes is pleased with how the party went. “I think everyone enjoyed it and realized how much we appreciate all that they do,” she said. “It’s nice to say thank you and they heard that.”
Those who would like to support NTNN may do so by making a donation, promoting NTNN to others, or signing up to volunteer. People who aren’t available every week may also enlist as substitute volunteers for activities such as shopping, food drives, or helping during the holidays. “There’s so many ways to help,” Peikes said. “You can come to us and we’ll figure it out.”
For more information about the Neighbor to Neighbor Network or to recommend someone for services, call 973-680-4017.