Strangers come together to help community member, then turn it into something bigger

Haley Parnell
Haley Parnell
Haley is a reporter for LINK nky. Email her at [email protected]

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What started as a case of an elderly man being taken advantage of turned into strangers coming together to help their fellow river city neighbor. That effort turned into an idea for a volunteer-based group called Neighbor Helping Neighbor that will provide assistance on other projects that might be too much for one person to handle.

Shari Petrie is a Latonia resident and no stranger to answering a call for help. She has volunteered her time at animal shelters, as PTA president at her children’s school and as “Shari the Bag Lady.”

Petrie is known as “Shari the Bag Lady” from a business where she started crocheting recycled plastic to make reusable bags. Before the COVID pandemic hit, she would travel around to schools, women’s groups, libraries, and church groups, teaching people how to create reusable bags and educating on plastic waste.

Since the pandemic’s start, Petrie hasn’t been as active with her bag business, but she still wanted to do something to help people.

She saw a post in the Bellevue Alliance Facebook group about a woman’s 75-year-old grandfather who lived in the city and had lost over $4,000 to a man who had cut down trees in his backyard and left piles of wood and branches with no intention of returning to complete the removal job for which he was hired.

The state in which the yard was left. Photo provided by Jessica Fay.
Photo provided by Jessica Fay.
Photo provided by Jessica Fay.

Petrie said her first instinct was to help the homeowner. She reached out to the woman who made the Facebook post and offered to help. Petrie said she didn’t have a chainsaw or a trailer, neither was she a manual labor person. But she could do the grunt work and had a friend with a chainsaw and experience chopping down trees.

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“They were so understandably angry, disheartened, frustrated, devastated. There’s a series of words, but no one wants to see grandpa taken advantage of for $4,500,” Petrie said.

On June 17, four days after the Facebook post was up, Petrie gathered a small team alongside her friend Tony who had a chainsaw and trailer and got to work cleaning up the man’s yard.

“The people that came, oh my word, one girl came she worked so hard, and she was going to work in a couple of hours,” Petrie said. “One of the guys had been working third shift and showed up before he was going to go to bed.”

She said after about an hour of work, the crew looked around and couldn’t believe how much they had accomplished.

An “after” picture of the yard. Photo provided by Shari Petrie.

“There’s so many projects that you look at them, and they are so big and overwhelming for one person, but you get ten people and boom, it’s done in an hour,” Petrie said.

She said the project was always about showing the family that there are still good people in the world.

“There’s a lot of things we can’t change, and it’s really upsetting and frustrating right now, but there’s some things we can, and that’s what we have to focus on,” Petrie said.

As the crew worked, Petrie experienced bringing the community together again as she had as “Shari the Bag Lady.” She said it brought the event planner out in her for what could be done for the river city communities when neighbors come together.

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Petrie said the Bellevue resident’s granddaughter offered to help them with any projects they had and then someone said they should name their group “Neighbor Helping Neighbor,” or NHN for short. After spending the afternoon together and having a good time helping out, the volunteer group was born.

The group is still in its beginning stages, having been formed less than a week ago. The idea is to start with lawn projects and work their way up to indoor ones. Petrie said her main goal is to help people who are elderly with projects, but people don’t have to be incapable of doing the work to ask for help.

Neighbor Helping Neighbor will serve the river cities in Northern Kentucky to start and may eventually expand to other parts of Northern Kentucky as they grow.

“It’s neighbors helping neighbors,” Petrie said. “We’re all not going to be able to attend each event. So maybe, you know, if it’s a Covington event, maybe not as many Bellevue people are able to come over, but maybe more Covington neighbors from around will. It’s just basically bringing the community together.”

Petrie said she is going to look into contacting local groups for things like free coffee and bagels to make the events “bigger than just hey were showing up to cut your tree.”

The Neighbor Helping Neighbor group currently has 15 people signed up. Petrie said she sees the group doing a project once a month but will operate on a case-by-case basis.

If you are interested in volunteering for Neighbor Helping Neighbor, you can contact Petrie through her website.

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