By Lauren Schiffman, Contributing Writer
Westborough – With the holiday season underway, many of us have had to reimagine our celebrations. The same goes for Westborough Youth & Family Services (WY&FS) and the Rotary Club of Westborough, which collaborate annually to host a free holiday store for Westborough families in need. Typically, WY&FS operates its winter wonderland free holiday store out of a meeting room at the Westborough Public Library, but in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the holiday store, too, has been reimagined.
In this unprecedented year, rather than toys, books, games and winter clothes, representatives from WY&FS and Westborough Rotary Club are seeking donations of gift cards to local retail outlets that carry items for children, including Learning Express, Target, Wal-Mart and Burlington.
Gift cards and cash will be collected by Rotary Club members, donated to WY&FS and distributed evenly to all families who apply. The requirements for applying are that applicants must be residents of Westborough and have children aged 18 and under living in the home.
“We’ve come up with a safe solution to provide for local families,” said Julia O’Neil-Welch, administrative assistant for WY&FS.
“We enjoy building relationships with the holiday store recipients and want our families to know that we’re here for them,” she added.
Donors are being asked either to leave their donations at Mugford’s Flower Shop, 8 Warburton Lane, or to call O’Neil-Welch at 508-366-3090 to arrange for safe pickup. Envelopes with the gift cards will be distributed safely and by drive-by appointment only at the Westborough Senior Center during the week of Dec. 14.
Applications, which are available in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic, can be found inside the Westborough Public Library, 55 West Main Street, during library hours and in a plastic bin outside of the side entrance; the food pantry, 9 East Main Street; and on the WY&FS website, https://www.town.westborough.ma.us/youth-and-family-services. Instructions for application submission are on the application itself, and O’Neil-Welch said that all applications will be processed with privacy and sensitivity.
Kathy Wilfert, president of the Westborough Rotary Club, said that during a time when things around us are changing, the Rotary hopes to make everyone’s holidays as festive as possible.
“If you find a project that needs to be done in town, you bring it to the club and we make it happen. Twenty years ago, (Westborough resident) Gerry Gross came to the club and said that the holiday store needed help,” said Wilfert. “That’s how the partnership began. After that, we forged a great partnership with Youth & Family Services not only with the holiday store but with other projects when they need it.”
Last year, the free holiday store distributed about 3,000 gifts to 230 children. Due to the pandemic, which has caused many to lose their jobs, WY&FS expects to serve even more families in need in 2020.