At the age of six, Marilyn Honig lost her mother and three siblings in a devastating house fire. As a result, Honig spent her childhood and part of her young adult life either homeless or living in foster care.
Rather than allowing her past to define her future, she used it to help make others’ lives better by starting a community page on Facebook to assist other survivors of house fires. The non-profit program, Berkshire Helping Hands, has touched countless lives and continues to grow.
Connecting Point‘s Brian Sullivan traveled to Northern Berkshire County and brings us this story.
Read the Full Transcript
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: At the age of six, Marilyn Honig lost her mother and three siblings in a devastating house fire. As a result, Honig spent her childhood and part of her young adult life either homeless or living in foster care.
Rather than allowing her past to define her future, she used it as a means to help make others lives better by starting up a community page on Facebook to assist victims of house fires. The nonprofit program, Berkshire Helping Hands, has touched countless lives and continues to grow.
Connecting Point‘s Brian Sullivan traveled to northern Berkshire County and brings us this story.
Brian Sullivan, Connecting Point: There are certain signs that can only be found in the northern Berkshires that give the area its unique charm, not to mention a slight element of danger. There are sites to be taken in that guarantee its visitors some unique visuals. While the snowbound viewfinders may be off limits right now, the views are still there for the taking.
For centuries, students have been leaving home for the first time or commuting to this area to have a unique experience in higher education, myself included. Downtown North Adams always seemed to have a unique New England look and feel about it. First timers here may think that the landscape epitomizes the northern Berkshires. Mountains as a backdrop, old architecture, and urban forestry running down the center span.
But the story that doesn’t make the brochure is that only one or two blocks away, there are countless people in need of life’s basic essentials. And that sentiment can be applied to the next town over, the next town over from there, and so on. So while things may appear peaceful, looking down from high atop the hairpin turn or walking across the quadrangle of the college campus, there is actually plenty of this type of scenery to go around. We got a firsthand look while out delivering care packages for the Berkshire Helping Hands.
Marilyn Honig, Berkshire Helping Hands: Many people think of the Berkshires as an affluent county. They think of the arts, they think of theater, they think of the beautiful mountains and everything that is appealing.
Unfortunately, that’s not the total reality. Because there are so many people that are really suffering, pre-COVID, post-COVID, day to day, they’re trying to make ends meet. And we are trying to reach out to those people that really need a voice and that really need some help.
Brian Sullivan: The BHH is a Facebook community group that started in the early months of 2019 after a string of house fires occurred across the northern Berkshires. The goal was to use the page as a vehicle for those who wanted to help and make donations that would get the affected families back on their feet. The outpouring of support for the volunteer-driven nonprofit has been incredible. And that’s handy because the year 2020 added a whole new demographic to their list of recipients.
Marilyn Honig: And when COVID hit, we heard that there was a need of elderly to to access things like toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizers. Just things that they really needed, like soap and disinfectant. And we started to make these bags, and we add a few little cute things like a stress ball, a large print crossword puzzle book, fuzzy socks, you know, things — just comforting things that give them something to do and just let them know that people really care about them and people remember them.
Brian Sullivan: Berkshire Helping Hands now has a permanent home office in the Old Beaver Mill in North Adams, after bouncing around several temporary locales before. The office itself might not be the biggest space under the sun, but it’s just the right size for a small assembly line of volunteers who are more than happy to help out.
Sue O’Neil, Berkshire Helping Hands: If Marilyn needs help on a weekend, on a Sunday afternoon, I will — she’ll call me. I’ll come in and we’ll do — put bags together for the elderly or for the homeless and just take an hour or two to get together on a Sunday and just put some packets together for people.
Brian Sullivan: If the Facebook page is the vehicle for the community to donate, then the vehicles of the volunteers are the actual means by which the care packages get delivered. Unless, of course, they have permission to use the North Adams Council on Aging van as their delivery system. Since the mission falls under the purview of taking care of seniors, and the van was getting minimal use, it only made sense.
Driver Kevin Hempstead obliged and letting us tag along. Hempstead, himself a volunteer firefighter in Clarksburg, is one of the more pleasant people I’ve come across in this line of work. In fact, all of the people I met for this project, all admittedly of modest means, seemed to actually enjoy giving up their time to help those in greater need than themselves.
Sue O’Neil: I myself will probably do this until the day I die. I mean, the need is there and if I’m here to help, and everybody at Berkshire Helping Hands is here to help, the need will never go away, unfortunately. So, we’re here to fill the gap and step up to the plate for these people.