Western Branch residents pay it forward

Published 9:09 pm Monday, March 28, 2016

It all started one snowy night, when Western Branch resident Karen Pinegar read a Facebook post about a cancer patient panhandling outside Kroger Marketplace in North Suffolk.

“I couldn’t stand it,” said Pinegar. When she and her husband tracked down the former longshoreman, who said he had lost his job after missing too much work after his cancer diagnosis, Pinegar took a leap of faith in her community.



She posted his needs — $300 for a weekly chemotherapy infusion treatment and $250 for housing — on her Facebook page. Within hours, people had donated $550 — enough for a week’s treatment and a hotel room for week, Pinegar said.

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The community’s outpouring of support prompted Pinegar, who has gone on multiple mission trips with her church over the years, to organize a Facebook group, Western Branch Philanthropy. As of Monday, the group had 379 followers.

While there have been a couple of formal meetings, the group of Western Branch residents shares most of the needs via Facebook group postings, Pinegar said.

If someone in the community makes her aware of a situation, Pinegar says she reaches out to the person to validate their need. Then, Pinegar said, she will post the need on the group’s Facebook page; once it has been met, she notes that on the Facebook post.

Occasionally, people will meet Pinegar and give her donations for a specific need, she said. But oftentimes, she will provide anyone who wants to help with billing information and an account number so donors can go online and make a payment directly to the company sending the bill, she said.

The group does not have nonprofit status from the IRS, although that is something the group is looking into, Pinegar said. While she keeps clear records of how all donations are used, this is essentially a community coming together to help its neighbors, Pinegar said.

“I believe we are here to help one another … and I view this as a way of people pulling together to help their own,” said Pinegar said. “No money goes directly into individuals’ hands.”

For example, if someone needs money to buy medicine or pay rent, she pays the pharmacy and landlord respectively directly with money orders.

The group has amassed two donated storage units full of furniture, clothing and televisions available for donation when needs arise, Pinegar said.

The group has helped a woman facing eviction and surgery save her house. In another case, they loaned someone enough to keep their lights on; the money was repaid in full on the date it was promised, Pinegar said.

The group has helped burned out families get back on their feet with donations of furniture. They’ve taken donated clothing and food to a local hotel where 39 homeless children are living with their families.

Nearly two dozen people recently turned out to have a “baby shower” for a pregnant woman whose husband had left her, bringing food and gifts. Many of the women met for the first time

“With all we have in this world, there is no one who should have to go to bed hungry or cold,” Pinegar said. “The things we are giving

are all things most of us take for granted … and at heart, I think most people are generous.

“I am amazed at the kindness of strangers. God is behind this.”

Carla Blechman, who volunteers with Western Branch Philanthropy, said she believes people generally want to help people in need. Oftentimes, they don’t realize there is a problem or they don’t know how to offer their help, she said.

The ability to post needs on Facebook helps eliminate that issue, she said.

“The problem is visible and for people who want to help, the way to do it is right there in front of them,” said Blechman. “People (using Facebook) came to be like a community of people working together.

“It’s just an awesome thing.”