Neighbors in Need members Arla McCue of Portland and Nadine Pembele from Congolese Community of Maine. Contributed / Arla McCue

What started as a small local Facebook group for people who wanted to help out refugees in the Portland area has grown into a diverse grassroots network of thousands that works to ensure the newcomers quickly have what they need to establish new lives in Maine.

Neighbors in Need, now with more than 2,600 members, is an exchange site to help new Mainers get set up with everything from groceries and kids’ clothing to kitchen utensils and couches. It functions in two ways: Organizations and those who work with immigrants post requests for items and individuals also post items they’d like to donate.

The group can’t “even guess how many people have benefited” from all the filled requests, according to Masey Kaplan, a Neighbors in Need administrator. It’s estimated it had moved more than $1 million worth of donated items and services before the pandemic, and “I’m not sure how to estimate that accurately either at this point,” she said.

When Kaplan, a Falmouth resident, joined Neighbors in Need in 2014, it had fewer than 100 members. She and a few other members saw the potential for the group to become more efficient and make a bigger impact, she said. When it was offered the use of a barn to store donated items that there wasn’t an immediate need for, the group took off, she said. After the 2016 election when more people became aware of the struggles refugees face in coming to the United States, the group’s membership exploded, she said.

“We had a lot more community interest. It motivated people to show up,” Kaplan said. “It’s just awesome people want to be in there and offer what they’ve got to offer.”

With the Portland Expo now sheltering about 300 asylum seekers to be housed through the summer, the group is preparing for more requests to start coming in. More than 1,030 asylum seekers have arrived in Portland since Jan. 1.


Neighbors in Need is not a nonprofit or official organization, and members prefer to keep it that way. They want to maintain their system of direct, door-to-door action, and avoid any bureaucratic barriers to getting people what they need as soon as they need it, Kaplan said.

“It is so efficient,” Kaplan said. “Someone will say, ‘two little sisters just got here and all they have are t-shirts and flip-flops,’ and someone will go right away with clothes.”

Kaplan describes the group as “just a loose coming together of people – it’s a really beautiful space.”

“It’s a way you can pop in and do something nice for someone,” she said. “There’s no obligation to stay forever, or you can show up every day. All you need is a will to help.”

The group also has an ongoing GoFundMe page for things like groceries, bus passes and other items that need to be purchased.

Kaplan’s mother, Arla McCue of Portland, has been active in the group for about eight years. Most of the asylum seekers she has worked with are starting over with nothing, she said. Once they’ve done the hard work of finding housing, “you walk into a barren apartment and it’s floors and walls and you don’t even have a fork,” she said. “The first thing people need is food and probably a bed.”


Members of the group don’t just donate material items, McCue said. Some can provide services.

“We’re an amazing resource with all kinds of backgrounds from lawyers to teachers to doctors,” McCue said. “You can ask for something that you think you’ll never get and you’ll get it.”

Some members were refugees themselves and can offer advice and guidance.

“A lot of people speak five languages but one of them is not English,” she said. Sometimes they simply need help to fill out forms or make phone calls.

The group now has a particular need for clean mattresses, bed bug covers, rugs, vacuum cleaners, rolling carts to transport groceries, uncoated pots and pans in good condition and other kitchen items.

“We love anyone with a truck who is willing to make deliveries,” McCue said.

Neighbors in Need is a private Facebook group, which users can apply to join. Kaplan, as a group administrator, said she’s vigilant about allowing new members in because the group works diligently to preserve the anonymity of recipients. Many of the asylum seekers are fleeing violence and other dangerous circumstances in their countries of origin, and information can travel quickly through social media, she said.

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