Helping the homeless in Northborough, Westborough
By Joyce DeWallace, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Cars pull up and unload. People scurry into Julie Stanwood’s Northborough home carrying bundles of clothes, shopping bags of toys, and packages of diapers. The living room is overflowing with donations. Stanwood is president of the Friends of Families in Transition, Inc., (FFIT) which is committed to assisting homeless families in the towns of Northborough and Westborough. Her mission is to coordinate the efforts of various community groups to work together to support the families who are provided with temporary housing in area motels.
“Currently there are 19 families residing in temporary housing in the area. The majority are single mothers with young children with fathers who have chosen or are unable to be involved with their kids. There are children in both towns’ schools who are being forced to live in temporary quarters. A lot of times it’s domestic violence. Sometimes it’s loss of a job, they can’t find work and unemployment runs out. Often it’s the inability to find affordable day care. Or huge medical bills. Maybe it’s needing to care for other family members,” explained Stanwood, as she juggled her constantly ringing cell phone and gave instructions to the donors.
Stanwood has always helped others. Even as a child, she would bring home stray people, and felt her calling was service to others.
“I love the gift you receive when you give to others,” she said. She and her husband, Doug, have five children, four boys and one girl, ranging in age from 3 to 16.
While working with the Northborough Helping Hands at Thanksgiving last year, she learned that Nancy Gill was delivering meals to people in local motels. She and a friend then asked, “What are you going to do for Christmas?” Stanwood and Gill decided to work together to put on a Christmas party for those people who were living in motels – 36 families at the time. The Friends of Families in Transition (FFIT) group was born.
Various community groups worked together to support those homeless families. Churches included First United Methodist, St. Luke’s, and St. Rose of Lima. Women’s groups and clubs joined in as did moms’ and tots’ groups. Giving organizations and food pantries were recruited to help out. By that Christmas, at least 10 volunteer groups joined forces to put on a huge Christmas party at the Northborough Town Hall attended by over 50 members of the families in transition. That was the beginning of the current mission.
Once FFIT was created, the volunteers found themselves delivering fresh fruit and milk. Storage is limited in such cramped quarters, and refrigerator space is minimal. Often the families have no car, so FFIT members provide rides to the food pantry and doctor’s appointments. They have created a lending library of books for the families to borrow. They network within the community to address individual needs and act as advocates. Most of all, FFIT provides a listening ear and words of encouragement.
Donations are the lifeblood of the group. They have constant, urgent needs for prepared meals, diapers, baby formula, gift cards to Target and Stop ’n Shop, and milk boxes. They also distribute toiletries for adults and babies, playing cards, coloring books, and games like Uno, Candyland and Sorry. FFIT has found that certain brands and certain items are in the greatest demand – extra large Goodnites underwear in sizes 3, 4 and 5; Horizon organic milk boxes in both chocolate and vanilla flavors, and Color Wonder sets.
What can the community do to help? Stanwood was quick to give her Wish List: accessible, heated storage space that’s in either Westborough or Northborough; donations of cash and gift cards; volunteers to assist with transportation, share organization and grant writing skills, teach job skills that will provide a means to earn a living.
FFIT is committed to keeping the local homeless from “falling through the cracks.”
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