Gift of Giving 2022: A look at what Central Mass. charities need this year – Worcester Mag

Jean McMurray, executive director of Worcester County Food Bank, demonstrates how the loading area works in the warehouse.

October’s orange leaves and Halloween decorations have disappeared. Neighbors are tacking up strings of colored lights on their front porches. That one aisle at every CVS is decked out in red and green ribbons. The holidays are once again approaching.

This time of year is always financially stressful, and in a time of economic inequality and recession, a significant amount of Worcester County already struggles to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. That’s where many of Worcester’s community organizations and nonprofits come in, and during the holiday season, local charities are reaching out for support.

Derek Fraser, operations coordinator at the Greater Worcester County Food Bank, slides boxes of food down a conveyer belt in April 2020.

RELATED STORY: Putting food on the table: Inside the fight against food insecurity in Worcester County

According to an early 2020 map from food insecurity researchers Feeding America, 9.1% of Worcester County residents did not have access to enough food to keep them healthy and active. Over the course of the past two years, as the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its economic toll on everyday life, that number has only increased, although estimates vary as to how much.

The Worcester County Food Bank is looking for nonperishable foods, fruit and vegetable juices, low-sodium and gluten-free options, and menstrual hygiene products, as well as financial donations. Worcester Community Fridges, which provides ways for neighbors to exchange food directly, operates four communal refrigerators across the city and is raising funds to build a fifth refrigerator outside St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church on Southbridge Street.

Volunteers Jean Peterson, Carl Gomes, Natalie Turner, Karen Coveney, Rumianna Islam, Trang Le, Echo Louissaint and Guillermo Creamer Jr. at the community fridge on Portland Street.

“Community fridges are open 24/7. We have a couple food guidelines, but in general, it’s a nice, easy way to share food with your neighbor,” Worcester Community Fridges founder Maria Ravelli said earlier in the year. “If you’re not able to donate money, donating time and resources as far as groceries and extra food always goes a long way.”

Kids across the city and throughout the state are starting to think about what gifts they want to open, and UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center is holding its annual Joy Drive, a fundraiser to buy toys for patients who will be waiting for Santa Claus to come down the hospital chimney this year.

“For a child who is facing a longer course of treatment and has the dexterity to build with Lego, [the hospital] might provide a large-size Lego set that the child can work on, look forward to, and feel proud of accomplishing over time,” said Liz Parker Gagne, community engagement officer at UMass Memorial’s philanthropy office. “For a child who might be missing their beloved pet from home, they can provide the right stuffed buddy.”

Pastor Judy Hanlon, co-founder of the LGBT Asylum Support Task Force, greets a participant of the 2018 Pride event on Worcester Common.

For those who like to pick out gifts that keep on giving, the Latino Education Institute is looking for family board games to add to the activities at its Dia de los Reyes party, which will take place on Jan. 7.

With another New England winter on the horizon, winter clothes are a common request. Early forecasters, including AccuWeather and the Old Farmer’s Almanac, predict heavy snow and several nor’easters for Massachusetts, and Worcester residents who are already short on money will still need a way to keep warm when they step outside. Organizations including the YWCA, Net of Compassion and the Worcester Refugee Assistance Project’s Haitian Task Force are accepting donations of winter hats, gloves, scarves and socks.

Abby's House on High Street in Worcester.

The Haitian Task Force is accepting new and gently used clothing, as well as diapers. The task force was set up earlier in the year to support a group of Haitian families, some of whom have very young children, after they fled political violence in Haiti and landed in Worcester.

Worcester also serves as a new home for many LGBT refugees who sought asylum in the United States after leaving countries where they were persecuted for their sexuality or gender identity, and the LGBT Asylum Task Force, which provides services for these refugees, has seen the demand for those services skyrocket within the past year.

“Since the start of the year, we’ve seen a 50 percent increase in the number of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers reaching out to us for support and coming to us for housing. This has greatly increased the need for financial donations and for regular volunteers,” said Alford Green, the task force’s director.

Alford Green is photographed on the Worcester Common.

The LGBT Asylum Task Force is looking for financial donations, corporate or community groups to cater the task force’s monthly dinners, and gift cards for the population it serves.

“[Financial contributions] would give us additional flexibility as asylum seekers’ needs vary,” Green said.

Shelters, including Abby’s House and Jeremiah’s Inn, are also in need of donations ranging from gift cards to bedding to kitchenware. Abby’s House is requesting nonessential but fun gifts for residents, while Jeremiah’s Inn is seeking food pantry donations that can be used to prepare holiday meals.

Here is a partial list of Worcester County charities and their donation requests this holiday season, from the United Way of Central Massachusetts’ Holiday Wish List Projects:

Distribute Thanksgiving Baskets with Catholic Charities Worcester. Need support 11/18 to help distribute food baskets to registered families in need.

Holiday Meal and Toy Drive Distribution for Worcester Housing Authority. Need support through 12/16 to serve holiday meals to residents at 15 sites throughout Worcester and Holden and distribute toys to families in Great Brook Valley.

Abby’s House Needs In-Kind donations for holiday giving: Hats, gloves, scarves and cozy socks, neutral-colored towel sets, pots and pans, travel coffee mugs, solid neutral-colored twin comforter, adult craft kits, Swiffer mop kits, broom with dustpan, gift cards (Target, Amazon, Price Chopper, Market Basket, Michael’s, Walmart, Dollar Tree), movie theater gift cards or tickets.

El Buen Samaritano Food Distribution Project: Volunteers need to help with food pantry box distribution through Dec. 30.

Military Family Holiday Support with Project New Hope. Seeking donations of grocery, gas, store and restaurant gift cards through 12/24 to support veterans and military families this Christmas.

Holiday Open House at Turn Back Time. Help with set-up and running of annual holiday event at the farm on 12/10.LIFT Up the Holidays for Living in Freedom Together (LIFT). Seeking store gift card donations until 12/6 for survivors of sex trafficking at Jana’s Place, HARBOR and through street outreach.

Yes We Care Food Distribution. Belmont AME Zion Church is seeking volunteers to assist with its Friday food distributions, including loading the truck at the Worcester County Food Bank and unloading it at the church.

Volunteers needed for Rainbow Lunch & Supper Clubs, where LGBT older adults come together to enjoy a meal and socialize in a judgment-free environment.

Volunteer Drivers for Rachel’s Table. Have an ongoing need for drivers to pick up donations and deliver to agencies that feed the hungry.

Art Donations for Worcester Youth for Main IDEA. Ongoing need to purchase a gift card or art kit from C.C. Lowell Art Store to help make art accessible for local youth.

Holiday Donations for Dismas House. In need of twin-size bedding, towels, personal hygiene products for residents through 12/31.

Letter and Card Writing for Seniors. WooCares is looking for handwritten cards and letters through 1/9 to brighten the day of an isolated older adult to be delivered through Meals on Wheels.

Book Sorting for Friends of the Worcester Public Library. Sort and organize donated books 11/15-11/17 to sell in bookstore and at public sales.

For more information on these projects and others, visit https://volunteer.unitedwaycm.org/need.

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