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Pam Washek rallies a nonprofit Neighbor Brigade

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Courtesy of Anna Mellones

(Read caption) After neighbors helped care for her family while she was ill, Pam Washek founded the Neighbor Brigade, which offers free help – from preparing meals to running errands – to families with an illness or other crisis. 'Often recipients [of help] become volunteers,' she says. She hopes to expand Neighbor Brigade beyond Massachusetts.

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It was something Pam Washek says she’d never experienced before.

When Ms. Washek was diagnosed with cancer in 2002, she was thrust into a cycle of daily radiation treatments. Cooking meals and getting her three daughters where they needed to go were suddenly much tougher tasks. But Washek says neighbors and friends immediately stepped forward and took care of meals every day for her children and organized rides to get them where they needed to go.

“It was really heartening and comforting,” says Washek, a resident of Wayland, Mass., a Boston suburb. “It almost made me feel I wasn't alone in this journey.”

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Her friend, Jean Seidon, was also going through cancer treatment and experiencing a similar outpouring of support. Together Washek and Ms. Seidon were inspired to create the Wayland Angel Food Network, an organization helping families who had suddenly been thrown into a crisis and needed help with everyday tasks.

Washek says the organization had 35 members when it first began, mostly people who had helped her family.

As services expanded beyond cooking, the name was changed to Wayland Angels. Then, when Seidon died in 2006 and the organization had spread to other communities, Washek decided to rename it Neighbor Brigade. She currently serves as the organization’s executive director.

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