ANDOVER — The kindness of family, friends and strangers brought Josue Hernandez and his three children to a home in time for the holidays. Then again, because of well-connected, well-meaning people, his son Jacob, 5, received a special visit from Batman on Wednesday.
"It's awesome how one little post (online) can change everything," said Stephanie Hernandez, smiling while she watched her brother and nephews talking with Batman.
Josue Hernandez and his three children moved into their Andover home about two weeks ago after living at Emmaus in Haverhill for nearly a year.
The single father helps Jacob in his fight against leukemia. After Hernandez lost his job as a program director at a residential medical facility, he struggled to find a new one.
With the help of the community and the Massachusetts HomeBASE rehousing program he was able to move his family into their own townhouse, but the support hasn't stopped there.
One of the local groups helping Hernandez with the transition into his home is the Kindness Collaborative, which helps connect people with goods and services across the Merrimack Valley. It started with a woman who connected with the family to help buy Christmas presents. She knew the co-founders of the Kindness Collaborative, Melissa Marrama and Darcie Nuttall, and knew that Marrama had recently purchased a Batmobile to assist in her charity work, Stephanie Hernandez said.
Knowing Jacob was a huge fan of the superhero, they decided he would be the Batmobile's first visit.
Marrama plans to use the Batmobile in her charity work for the collaborative and the Andover Islamic Center. Batman and his ride will visit children like Jacob across the Merrimack Valley "to tell kids to mask up and to be kind," Marrama said.
The uplifting visits are just one part of the work she is doing through the Kindness Collaborative.
Marrama and Nuttall met and created the collaborative after dedicating time and labor to a range of projects throughout the community during the pandemic, allowing donations to come in and then connecting the goods to those who needed them. A Facebook group that was started for mask distribution early in the pandemic now has more than 5,000 people from across the Merrimack Valley partnering to help get goods and services to people.
Over the weekend Marrama arranged for Leap Year Publishing, based in North Andover, to donate half a truckload of supplies to the collaborative. She then allowed teachers and social workers from the area to pick up the supplies from her home as they made kits for their students to use if schools go remote, she said.
Recently someone donated a dollhouse to the collaborative and Marrama was able to give it to a girl who didn't have any toys because the girl and her mom had left an abusive home, she said.
"The kindness collaborative helps everyone helps out of kindness and the stories we find out after are amazing," Marrama said.
The collaborative has grown into a distribution channel for anything and everything people may need, heightening the awareness of a variety of social issues from food insecurity, homelessness to education needs, Marrama said.
"It's humanity each and every day 100 times a day on our steps," Marrama said, explaining that many nonprofits closed their doors because of the pandemic and people needed a place to bring their goods to redistribute.
And the kindness goes a long way.
"I thank God and everyone that has helped us," Josue Hernandez said watching his sons and their cousins with Batman on Wednesday.
"I get up every morning because (Jacob) gets up and he keeps fighting," he said. "It's not easy, and I'm more blessed than some people. I'm dancing through my storm and putting on a poker face to make sure my kids have a better life."