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NORTH READING, Mass. - A single mother at risk of losing the North Reading, Massachusetts, home she shares with her twin girls who live with autism is overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from her community.
Paula Melo’s husband, Fernando, died in 2011, just eight weeks after being diagnosed with cancer, and shortly before their twin girls, Sophia and Ava, turned 5 years old. Since then, Melo has been paying the bills on her paycheck alone.
“We had no preparation. No life insurance. I was just left to do what I could, and it was tough,” Melo said of the sudden financial challenges as a single mom. “It worked for a while, and then it stopped working. What I was doing wasn’t enough.”
Over time, Melo got behind on her mortgage payments, and her home – the house her great-grandparents once owned – has since entered the foreclosure process. While Melo has been able to postpone an auction of her home, she is still behind and at risk of losing it.
“I was born and raised there, and my girls, they love it there. And they want to stay there, and they’re happy. It’s good for them,” Melo told Boston's WFXT on Wednesday. “I want to do what I can to keep it.”
Since Melo has never been one to ask for help, members of the community have stepped up.
Jolene Danian, the girls’ special education teacher at North Reading Middle School, started a GoFundMe page with a goal of $100,000 to cover the family’s mortgage. In just three days, donors have raised well over $10,000.
“It’s so hard when you see people trying so hard and to see that they still aren’t quite where they should be,” Danian said. “With such a good family, such good girls, and such a good mom, everyone wanted to do everything we could.”
Danian, other teachers and parents are determined to help Melo save her home and keep her girls in the same routines, in the school district they love.
“They are just a joy to be around,” Danian said. “They’re fun, smart. They’re sort of like a breath of fresh air. They make coming to work a great time.”
Dave Benoit, owner of Dascoli’s Pizza on Main Street, in North Reading, learned of Melo’s story and reached out, too. He donated $3 from every pizza sold Wednesday night, as well as the entire tip jar.
Friends, teachers and complete strangers stopped in to buy dinner and help out, something for which Melo will forever be grateful.
“It’s overwhelming. … What a feeling. You don’t realize how many people love you and care about you. And when you’re in this position, it shows. It’s humbling,” Melo said. “This community, this town, how everybody just wants to help – I hope some day I can pay it forward. I really do. And I will.”
To help the family cover their bills, you can donate to their GoFundMe page by clicking here.