LIVINGSTON, NJ — When New York City became an epicenter for COVID-19, Livingston native Melissa Eisen, a Livingston High School alumna from the Class of 2011, quarantined in her hometown with her parents and quickly decided to join the ranks of those helping her neighbors get back on their feet after the pandemic.

Since May, Eisen has raised more than $5,600 for Livingston Neighbors Helping Neighbors (LNHN) through a program she has dubbed “$5 Fridays,” which encourages residents to provide small monetary contributions on a weekly basis to help Livingston residents in need.

Despite Livingston’s reputation as an affluent community, Eisen knew that many residents would be relying on temporary or permanent financial assistance due to the pandemic. After discovering LNHN, Eisen became determined to find a way to contribute to the cause.

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“I wanted to get involved in something tangible and local,” said Eisen, who contacted LNHN President and Co-founder Stacey Rubinstein to brainstorm ways to assist the organization. “Stacey said I could do pretty much anything I wanted, so I emailed friends and posted on my social media platforms that I was fundraising for LNHN.”

Eisen’s first request for funds raised approximately $1,400 that she and her mother then used for a “massive shopping trip” at Costco. According to Eisen, this trip helped LNHN to replenish its food pantry inventory, which was waning due to the increased need from COVID-19.

At Rubinstein’s suggestion, Eisen also personally delivered groceries to a handful of residents and recalls being moved by the families’ gratitude.

“I brought chocolate chip muffins to one home, and the daughter was so excited that she started jumping up and down,” said Eisen. “They were unbelievably grateful. It feels wonderful to help others, and it’s especially gratifying to see how happy it makes them.”

Wanting to reach more people, Eisen got permission to post donation requests on the LTown Lowdown Facebook group, which has more than 7,000 members and garnered a significant response.

Although many friends and family members provided donations of up to $100 off the bat, Eisen recognized that this might be a lot to expect from strangers on a regular basis—and so $5 Fridays was born.

“When I reached out to friends and family to get them involved, I was overwhelmed by their generosity,” she said. “However, I know these times are tough for everyone, and money is a finite resource. So then, I had an idea—$5 Fridays.

"If several people can contribute just $5, we can go far…With this money, we will be able to make a real difference in people’s lives, and we couldn’t do it without coming together as a community.”

Through Venmo and PayPal, Eisen uses the funds raised to purchase groceries, household items, ShopRite gift cards and other essentials for Livingston families in need.

Rubinstein was very impressed with the ideas as well as Eisen’s fundraising abilities. 

“It became clear that she had a creative mind when it comes to fundraising,” said Rubinstein. “Melissa's initial fundraising and then her ‘$5 Fridays’ campaign have been an absolute lifeline for our LNHN families.

“Melissa would shop during a time when others didn't love the idea of going into stores. And most significantly, she has provided our organization with [ShopRite] gift cards, which we can give to residents [so] they can shop for items that are most needed in their families. It’s empowering and truly the best.”

Eisen’s efforts have been so well organized that she has recently been able to continue $5 Fridays despite being back in Manhattan. Funds are now being collected via Venmo to make it easier for donors to contribute with just a few clicks.

“Melissa is a true influencer,” said Rubinstein. “She has a heart of gold and uses her voice to encourage others to take action and help and for that LNHN is forever grateful. We consider Melissa a very special volunteer and are so glad she reached out as her impact has been significant.”

Eisen, who works professionally as an account director for platform sales at Verizon Media, has also been heavily involved in Cycle for Survival since her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 as well as Rosemarie’s Rescue Ranch, where her family helps by fundraising, donating items to the retail shop and fostering dogs.

To learn more about LNHN, visit the Facebook page BY CLICKING HERE or contact the organization at LNHN07039@gmail.com. To contribute to $5 Fridays, visit Eisen’s Venmo page at @melissa-eisen.

Those in need or who know someone in need should contact Township Social Worker Anakaren Millan at amillan@livingstonnj.org or 973-535-7961, ext. 231.

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