One Christmas Eve several years ago, a little girl found herself in the care of what was then the state Department of Social Services, unable to go home and with no area relatives to take her in.
“Will Santa be able to find me tonight?” she asked the agency workers trying to find her a temporary foster home. When a Shrewsbury teenager heard the story later from his aunt, he and his cousin had an idea.
To ensure there would always be gifts for children in similar difficulties, they started a holiday toy collection drive, now run by Shrewsbury Youth & Family Services Inc. and the regional office of the state’s Department of Children and Families.
“I can’t tell you how many families we help,” said LouAnn Geer, who has continued to help oversee the drive ever since her son Roderick launched the effort as a high school sophomore.
The drive is just one way area residents can give back locally and nationally this year. From Groton to Wrentham, organizations are helping to spread holiday cheer through donations of toys, turkeys, and Christmas trees.
For the eighth year in a row, the Shrewsbury-based holiday toy collection effort is accepting unwrapped new, nonviolent toys and clothes for younger children, and gift cards for teens. In previous years, the drive has been able to help hundreds of local families and children up to age 18 across Worcester County receive that extra touch of holiday cheer when food, clothing, and heat are bigger priorities.
Participants can donate toys and gifts to four locations in Shrewsbury: Gymnastics Learning Center, 574 Lake St.; Shrewsbury Senior Center, 98 Maple Ave.; Avidia Bank, 23 Maple Ave.; and Osco Pharmacy, White City Plaza.
Donations will be accepted until Dec. 14, and will be stored and sorted at Trinity Church. On Dec. 18, parents who receive services through the Worcester area’s Department of Children and Families can select toys for their children. For more information, contact Geer at 508-753-6789.
Holiday Gift Bag Project
For more than 30 years, Concord Prison Outreach has held its Holiday Gift Bag Project, which provides all 1,700 inmates at MCI-Concord and the Northeastern Correctional Center in West Concord with gift bags for the holidays. Individuals, families, faith groups, clubs, or organizations can purchase the needed items and drop them off at the River Street entrance to Trinity Episcopal Church, 81 Elm St. in Concord, starting Tuesday and continuing through Dec. 3.
As determined by the state Department of Correction, each gift bag will contain deodorant soap, toothpaste, a pad of white paper, white envelopes, socks, shampoo, deodorant, and a handmade holiday greeting card. A list with the specific requirements for each item can be found at www.concordprisonoutreach.org .
Cash donations are also welcome; tax-deductible checks can be made out to Concord Prison Outreach Inc., with “Holiday Gifts” on the memo line, and mailed to Holiday Gift Bag Project, PO Box 383, Concord, MA 01742.
In addition, adult volunteers are needed to sort the items and prepare the gift bags.
Sessions will be held at Trinity Episcopal Church from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on weekdays from Tuesday through Dec. 11. There are two evening sessions as well: on Wednesday and on Dec. 4, from 7 to 9 p.m.
Shop for Your Kids Day
For more than 25 years, the Loaves & Fishes organization’s annual “Shop for Your Kids Day” has worked to combat hunger in the MetroWest area. This year’s event will be held on Dec. 20 at the Devens Community Center, 100 Sherman Ave., in Devens.
According to Loaves & Fishes, more than 210 clients “shopped” for their children last year, choosing from donated new toys, books, jewelry, and gift cards. With the help of more than 100 volunteers working on the event, 500 children who may not otherwise have received gifts were able to experience some of the joy of the holidays.
The nonprofit organization is looking for donations of new, unwrapped gifts valued up to $25, or gift cards in denominations of $10, $15, or $25. For a list of the most desired items,visit www.loavesfishespantry.org.
The Ayer, Groton, Harvard, Littleton, and Shirley police forces are collecting toys, as are local post offices. Toys may also be dropped off at the Cottage Restaurant in Ayer, the Shirley Public Library, Littleton’s Reuben Hoar Library, Littleton High School, and Donelan’s Supermarkets in Groton and Littleton. Middlesex Savings Bank and North Middlesex Savings Bank also have collection boxes.
The website is updated regularly with locations and times to drop off toys at the Devens Community Center and the food pantry. Volunteers are also needed to inventory toys, pick up and deliver toys, and set up or work at the “Shop for Your Kids” day.
To pitch in, e-mail Deb Roufos at email@example.com or call her at 978-448-0447.
Feed-a-Family for Fifty
The three food pantries of the United Way of Tri-Country are experiencing the largest food shortage they have seen in 40 years. To ensure 3,000 local families have warm meals for the holidays, the regional nonprofit is holding its Feed-a-Family for Fifty campaign.
A $50 donation will provide a family in need with a turkey and a gift card to purchase the fixings for a full meal, or up to seven bags of groceries, according to United Way of Tri-County senior vice president Jennifer Maseda. Donations will help families carry on traditional holiday meals at a time when the cost of turkeys — and food in general — is rising.
“Being able to sit with your family for a warm meal is really a luxury,” Maseda said. The United Way of Tri-Country serves communities in Middlesex, Norfolk, and Worcester counties, and operates food pantries in Framingham, Marlborough, and Clinton, where demand has grown by 400 percent in the last year..
The United Way is also hosting its fifth annual Hope for the Holidays campaign, which provides children up to age 18 with gifts. Maseda said there were 1,114 children signed up as of last week.
Area residents can sponsor a family and provide gifts based on a family’s requests; drop off new, unwrapped toys and gifts for children of all ages; or make a donation of $25 that the agency will use to purchase gifts.
Volunteers are also needed to help sort and match gifts or to assist with pick-ups and deliveries. For more information, contact Barbara LaGrenade at 508-370-4873 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .
Trees for Troops
Mahoney’s Garden Center is once again taking part in the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation’s Trees for Troops program, which allows participants to donate balsam firs from Nova Scotia to soldiers and families at bases across the country and around the world.
But you don’t have to live near one of Mahoney’s eight locations to donate a tree. The company has set up a hot line to allow donations via a credit card. Each tree comes with a blank, waterproof card for donors to write personal messages to the soldier receiving the tree. Mahoney’s also encourages customers to include their names and addresses so that soldiers can send thank-you notes .
To participate, visit any of Mahoney’s locations, including ones in Concord, Wayland, and Winchester, by next Sunday to purchase a 7-foot-tall balsam fir for donation. The tree will be shipped by FedEx to one of more than 60 military bases across the country.
Trees cost $24.50, and Mahoney’s will make a $5 donation to the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation for every tree donated by its customers.
To donate by phone, call Mahoney’s hot line at 781-721-4691. Callers will be able to dictate a personal message for their tree’s card. Visit www.mahoneysgarden.com for more information.Laura Franzini can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at LauraFranzini.