The last year has not been easy for the family of Braintree's Maryann Velia-Coleman.
After losing her husband, Brian, in December to a yearlong battle with lung cancer, Coleman woke up on March 21 to a disheartening sight – the used car she had owned a week after trading in her and her husband’s vehicles was missing two tires.
Since then, the community has come together in the family’s time of need, donating money, giving evenings out, and offering support as one of Braintree’s own adapts to a new way of life.
And for Coleman, who has 11- and 13-year-old sons, the generosity of neighbors and the kindness of strangers has made all the difference.
Even a week after neighbor Brendan McLaughlin, a police officer in Braintree, pulled together $800 from co-workers and friends to help out, Coleman is amazed by the community's response.
“[Officer McLaughlin] was at the bus stop with his kids and saw the police car at my house and he came over to see what happened,” Coleman recalled. “He took it upon himself to [raise the money].”
McLaughlin went back over to Coleman’s house later that day to tell her several people wanted to donate money. Three days later, McLaughlin had rounded up hundreds of dollars from people at work and other neighbors. A week later, the checks were still coming in.
“I know the family has been through a lot, so I just wanted to be a good friend and neighbor and help her,” McLaughlin said in a phone interview.
In total, the community helped raise over $800 in a matter of days.
“It’s just been unbelievable,” Coleman said. “The response from people just in general, and for this to happen. He’s already raised over $800. I feel uncomfortable taking all that money, because I really only needed to cover the cost of the deductible, but people just keep giving and giving.”
Though the help has surprised Coleman, McLaughlin was not shocked at how much the community has come together.
“It came from the generosity of the people I work with and the good people of Braintree,” McLaughlin said. “Braintree residents have always been one to help people when they are down.”
The entire effort was done through word of mouth, with people eagerly offering to help, McLaughlin said.
Despite the altruistic act, McLaughlin is not one to take any credit.
“It’s not about me, it’s about Maryann,” he said. “She’s been through a difficult time. That’s what it’s all about.”
Coleman said the act of kindness is only the latest in the past year. Her husband’s company, Cummins Diesel, kept her husband on the payroll and the family on their health insurance long after her husband had to stop working. Co-workers there also donated upwards of $8,000.
At the Patriot Ledger, where Coleman works, coworkers have helped donate vacation time to her. Last year, A1 Limos donated a limo and someone else donated Red Sox tickets to give the family a night out.
Several people through the group Super Saturdays, which helps kids on the autism spectrum – including one of Coleman’s children – have donated money and flowers.
“It’s just been an unbelievable year…” Coleman said. “I just feel like saying 'thank you' is not enough. It’s like, what else can I do? 'Thank you' is so empty, what else can I do to at least acknowledge these people and what they’ve done.”
The pain of losing a loved one is still ever-present, and memories of Coleman’s 6’3” tall husband are still bittersweet, Coleman laughing through tears as she recalled how much of a presence Brian was in the community, coaching kids baseball, and how loving of a dad he was.
“It helps to think about all the good people have done. Helps to ease some of the pain,” Coleman said.
As for the help she's received, it just proves just how great of a community Braintree is, she said.
“I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” she said.