FSU and local organizations hold charity events

By Maia Almeida
Staff Writer

By Caroline Lanni
Staff Writer

Although a number of traditional FSU charity holiday events have been canceled this fall due to the pandemic, there are still opportunities for members of the campus community to give back.

There are still a number of significant holiday initiatives occurring this holiday season such as food drives, clothing donations and toy drive programs to which members of the Framingham community can contribute.

There are many local organizations in Framingham holding holiday charity events and drives to support the community now more than ever during COVID-19.

These local organizations include Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Mass/MetroWest, A Place to Turn Food Pantry, The United Way Tri-County, Wayside Youth and Family Support Network, South Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC), Salvation Army, Knights of Columbus, Mayflower Council of the Boy Scouts of America, MetroWest Chamber of Commerce, and Family Promise.

FSU’s Christian Fellowship, Sodexo Dining Services, Henry Whittemore Library, and the FSU Police Department are holding toy drives and other holiday charity events on campus this semester.

Some annual holiday drives that offices have held in the past have been canceled for this semester due to COVID-19, including charity events sponsored by Student Involvement and Leadership Development (SILD), the Dean of Students, and the Fashion Club.

FSU Charity Drives

Senior Gabrielle Laurenzano, president of Christian Fellowship (CF), said, “The operation Christmas child event that we hold in November is always a really exciting event to have. This year, we were able to pack 20 boxes to send to the organization that runs it called Samaritan’s Purse.”

Laurenzano added, “Having this event at FSU provides students with an opportunity to give during the holiday season to children who may not receive Christmas gifts.”

Senior Mariah Yoder, marketing coordinator of CF, said her group helped assist students in packaging shoeboxes filled with toys, supplies, and other “fun items” for children in need.

Yoder said, “Samaritan’s Purse will share the gospel and do outreach in the community when the boxes are distributed.”

She added the members of CF were able to package 20 boxes. The students dropped off their boxes at the Campus Ministry office and then the members delivered the boxes to Samaritan’s Purse.

“We had windows of times people could come and pick-up boxes and supplies to socially distance,” said Yoder.

The members of CF advertised this event through media platforms, an email list, and during their club meetings, she said.

Yoder said, CF could have had more people involved in the event if it were held in person.

“A lot of times, the children receiving these boxes have never gotten a Christmas gift before,” she added.

Rachel Bissonette, marketing coordinator for Sodexo Dining at FSU, said Dining Services undertook three charitable campaigns for the Rams Resource Center during the holiday season.

She said the three charitable campaign opportunities included their annual soup kitchen, Dine and Donate, and a survey response donation.

Bissonette added, “In the month of October, we held the first campaign, which was called, Dine and Donate. If you bought $50 or more in Ram Cash or in dining during the month of October, we donated one bag of non-perishable foods to the Rams Resource Center.”

“We will be donating 11 bags to the Rams Resource Center this semester,” said Bissonette.

She added during the months of November and December, Sodexo held its virtual survey and for every survey completed, it donated $1 to the Rams Resource Center.

Bissonette said 196 surveys were completed, so Sodexo will be donating $196 to the Rams Resource Center.

She added in November, Dining Services held its annual soup kitchen in a very different way due to COVID-19. Instead of in the Dining Hall, Sodexo limited the soup sales for charity to the Ram’s Den Grille.

Any profits from soup sales in the month of November at the Ram’s Den Grille were donated to the Rams Resource Center. Bissonette said $275 was raised.

She added the soup kitchen profits “would have been bigger” because profits in the past were three times higher. Although the population on campus is down, “we did OK.”

Bissonette said Dining Services sent this information out by email and advertising on social media to the community.

Interim Dean of the Henry Whittemore Library Millie Gonzalez said the library and the FSU Police Department (FSUPD) are working together to partner with the State Police Barracks in Framingham to collect unwrapped toys for the Toys for Tots Drive and deliver those toys to the Barracks.

The State Police are collecting these toys for the Toys for Tots and the organization will be distributing the toys to our local community, according to Gonzalez.

She said the donations for the Toys for Tots Drive can be dropped off at the front entrance of the library in a box labeled “Toys for Tots” from Dec.7 to Dec. 15.

“It is hard to know how many toys we will get. It will be just enough to spread holiday cheer,” said Gonzalez.

She added, “The setup to donate will be contactless.”

She said she sent this information by email to the faculty, staff, and The Gatepost, and it will be posted on social media platforms.

Gonzalez said, “We will do the ‘Stuff the Cruiser’ event with toys.”

The University Police officer assisting Gonzalez for the Toys for Tots Drive, Harpreet Singh, said the University Police will be “collaborating” with the library on this drive to send the toys to the State Police Barracks and to assist in the “Stuff a Cruiser” event.

Singh said, “This year has been a most difficult year for all of us and we’re hoping that the FSU community gets together to donate new unwrapped toys to the donation box located in the Whittemore Library.

“It’s all about the importance of giving back to the community and helping those in need,” Singh added.

Taylor Anderson, a senior English major, said, “Times are tough now, and in my opinion, charity is more important than ever.”

Anderson added, “Giving where you can has now become very necessary since there are so many people in need in times like these. Every little bit helps.”

Sarah Assimakopoulos, a sophomore communication arts major, said, “I think toy drives are important for kids – especially during the Christmas season. Some kids cannot afford to have a nice Christmas, so it only seems right that families who do have some money donate a toy to a child in need.”

Alec Weeman, a sophomore criminology major, said, “I think it’s very important for every kid to have the best Christmas possible. How I would like to donate is getting a kid what he/she wants the most – even if it’s very expensive.”

Hannah Mace, a sophomore child and family studies major, said, “I think charity drives and Toys for Tots are extremely important all year round, especially during the holiday season. I feel it’s this time of year that’s all about giving back to others.”

She added, “You never know what the past year has had in store for other people, and even the smallest acts of kindness can change someone’s life.”

Some FSU Charity Drives Canceled

Director of SILD Sara Gallegos said her office is not undertaking any holiday drives this year.

Gallegos said, “It was not something we could take on during this time as the staff are not in the office full time and the population on campus is down.”

Gallegos added the website for The United Way is https://www.uwotc.org/hope. SILD usually partners with United Way during this time of year, so if community members still want to sponsor a child, they can do so through the website.

Samantha Collette, vice president of Fashion Club and class of 2022 president, said her club cannot do its annual clothing swap because of COVID-19 rules and regulations on campus.

“It’s disappointing that we can’t do the clothing swap this year because a lot of people in our department value sustainability, and the clothing swap promotes that,” she said.

“All of the clothing we don’t take gets donated, and I think it’s sad we don’t have the means to do that this year,” Collette added.

Robin Kurkomelis, assistant to the dean of students, said, “It has been hard on many levels to organize annual events such as the Santa Funds and Toys for Tots, with so many people not living or working regularly on campus.

“While FSU may not be able to organize what we have done in the past, I know we will again, and I am impressed that people I know are giving in other ways. For example, I have given in other areas to support members of my community, such as my local food pantry, or even buying a ‘certificate’ at my local Shaw’s to buy a family a holiday dinner,” Kurkomelis added.

Marissa Dias, a senior marketing major, said, “The holidays are the time of giving and right now is the most important time of the year to be giving.

“We have it pretty bad right now because of the pandemic, but someone may always have it worse, so we should be grateful for what we have and give what we can,” she added.

Carly Eiten, a junior fashion major, said, “I think it’s [holiday fundraisers] a great way to give back to members of the community and those in need.

“The holiday season is all about giving and celebrating with loved ones, and not everyone might have the opportunity to do so,” she added.

Caroline MacDonald, a senior child and family studies major, said, “Charity drives during the holiday season is a wonderful idea because there are lots of families and children who are less fortunate than others.”

Local Charity Events Happening

Nicolas Kane, development manager at Wayside Youth and Family Support Network, said his organization provides a variety of mental health counseling and support services for those families in need in Massachusetts.

Kane said donations to Wayside are tax-deductible and can be made at www.waysideyouth.org/donate.

“This time of year, the community’s support is needed more than ever,” Kane said.

He added its residential program in Framingham houses up to 84 adolescents between the ages of 12-18, many in the care of The Department of Children and Families.

“The holidays are an especially hard time for these youth, who are away from their families – far more this year because of COVID-19. During this time of year, our fundraising supports buying holiday presents for these youth as well as supporting families facing food insecurities and providing other basic needs,” said Kane.

In an email, Katie Roy, the Worcester regional program director of Big Brothers, Big Sisters (BBBS) of central Mass/MetroWest, said, “Throughout the pandemic, BBBS has become a resource to our families by making available small grants to those in need from our COVID-19 relief fund.”

Roy added, “We have helped numerous families cover portions of housing, utilities, and food expenses. This is an ongoing effort made available to those we serve.

“During the holiday season, we have been fortunate to have a number of donors come forward to sponsor some of our families through our ‘Adopt-A-Family’ program,” she said. “Donors receive lists for each family with clothing sizes, two to three items that are needed for each child and then two to three wish list items..

“Through the generous efforts of some very special donors, we will be able to help over 40 children to have a brighter holiday season,” she added.

Joanne Barry, executive director of A Place to Turn, said her organization is an emergency food pantry located in Natick serving residents of the MetroWest area and providing food and care items.

Barry said, “During this time of challenge and uncertainty, our focus at A Place to Turn is the same as it has always been – providing nutritious food to our MetroWest neighbors in need. Our method of distribution has changed – primarily to keep staff safe and serving.”

“Social distancing and uncertainty regarding transmission of COVID-19 has disrupted the network of volunteers who keep our programs going each week,” she said.

“Financial donations are helping us make purchases through produce companies – the Greater Boston Food Bank, distributors like Sysco, and local markets and farms,” Barry said. “A Place to Turn is definitely seeing more people who have never accessed our pantry before.

“In the last two weeks, over 250 families received gift cards and Thanksgiving food for the holiday. Because of a caring community and committed donors, we are here to assist during the busy month of December,” said Barry.

She added to get to the organization’s website for more information, go to www.aplacetoturn-natick.org.

Major Wendy Kountz, the corps commanding officer at the local Salvation Army, said, “The Salvation Army in Framingham has been serving families throughout the pandemic. Over the past eight months, we have delivered food boxes and personal care items to approximately 120 families per week.”

Kountz added the organization is currently packaging items such as toys and clothing for over 500 children during the holiday season.

She added, “This year due to COVID-19, the Salvation Army in Framingham decided to forgo our iconic outside red kettles and instead do all fundraising virtually.”

Kountz said donors can access the following link salvationarmyma.org/rescueframingham to donate.

Kountz said anyone can click on the link and join their team. Joining does not cost anything, and people can share on social media to encourage others to donate, too.

John Hegarty, manager at Knights of Columbus in Framingham, said the center is closed due to COVID-19, but council members are still collecting coats for children to give out at the local church during Christmas time.

Hegarty said, “We do this every year, but besides that, the hall is shut down and has been since March.”

Jack Colamaria, senior district executive at the Mayflower Council of the Boy Scouts of America, said, “In these difficult times, the Mayflower Council has continued to provide a safe program with the financial support of the community.”

Colamaria said the council of the Boy Scouts of America has served the MetroWest for over 100 years in the Framingham units.

He added, “This year’s Giving Tuesday has been extended to the end of December, so families and businesses can contribute to support scouting.”

Donations can be mailed to the Mayflower Council, Post Road District, 83 Cedar St. Milford, MA 01757 or can be made online at www.mayflowerbsa.org/donate, he added.

Paul Mina, president and CEO of The United Way of Tri-County and Framingham, said its annual Hope for the Holiday Drive is still occurring.

Mina said this drive is “where we utilize our relationships with area companies and individuals of high net worth in the workplace and outside the workplace to ask them to adopt families,” during the holiday season.

“We have almost 2,200 individuals and families that are referred to us by our partner agencies and by our own folks that we see in our own food pantries that we serve every day,” he added.

He said the organization has a large list of needy folks that it helps throughout its facilities. The organization holds this drive every fall during the holiday season, starting in October and distributing the gifts to the families and children during the middle of December.

Mina said the organization gives three to four gifts per child, and the gifts are appropriate gifts that the families can sustain. They choose to not wrap the gifts, so the families know what they are giving their children for the holidays.

He added, “That is our primary holiday program, and we feed the hungry every day. For Thanksgiving, we just fed over 2,200 families with turkey and fixings.”

Mina said during COVID-19, the United Way is still “very busy during the holiday seasons,” and its outreach area is for 34 communities.

Due to COVID-19, Mina said that its numbers in the food pantry have doubled and the Hope for the Holidays program requests are much higher than normal and the distribution is harder due to the organization following the safety rules.

“Normally, we would have thousands of volunteers, but this year, because of COVID-19, our volunteer staff has gone way down due to the threat of exposure, which is understandable,” he said.

Mina has worked for the United Way for 31 years, and the organization has partnered with FSU in previous years, he added.

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According to Mina, volunteerism is important. “It teaches you a perspective on what the community is really like. It allows you to see people in their own settings, and to walk a mile in their shoes to show you it is not the same as your life. It allows you to see how blessed you are, and how important it is to give back to your community.”

Mina added people can go to the organization’s website, www.utotc.org and make a donation.

The donations are tax deductible, and the organization is grateful for all it can get. The website allows the donors to select which group they want to support, he added.

The community can also call the United Way’s office at (508) 370-4800 or email Paul Mina at paul.mina@uwotc.org, he said.

Elizabeth O’Connor, resource development coordinator at SMOC, said, “SMOC holds three signature events each year – two in the fall and one in the winter. All three have had to change either to virtual events or have been canceled due to COVID-19 safety concerns.”

She said, “The 9th annual Voices Against Violence (VAV) Purple Passion 5K run/walk was held virtually this year in September, and we’re grateful for the support of the many sponsors and participants who continue to support VAV’s mission to end domestic violence.”

She said the organization’s annual golf tournament was canceled this year due to COVID-19.

“Our annual holiday event, Evening of Giving, is held each winter in Marlborough and benefits Roland’s House, our Marlborough emergency shelter. Evening of Giving has historically been held at a hotel and features numerous Marlborough-area restaurants’ cuisine,” she said.

O’Connor added due to these events bringing critical funding to SMOC’s programs, the organization plans to email appeal letters this month to patrons of its golf tournament and Evening of Giving event. Gifts can be made at its website www.smoc.org.

Donations can be made to its affiliates – Open Pantry Community Services (OPCS) and Lowell Transitional Living Center (LTLC), said O’Connor.

To give to SMOC, go to www.smoc.org. To give to LTLC, go to www.ltlc.org. To give to OPCS, go to www.openpantry.org, she added.

Jim Giammarinaro, president and CEO of MetroWest Chamber of Commerce, said, “Our chamber raised funds for Veterans Inc. through a joint event with the Worcester and Marlborough chambers supporting the American Heritage Museum in Hudson.

“We also raised funds for Veterans Inc. through our annual meeting on Nov. 17,” he added.

Heather Connolly, board of directors’ clerk of Family Promise MetroWest, Natick, said normally, the organization hosts an event called “Keep the Promise.” Food vendors from the area come and provide samples. There is a silent auction and then a presentation and live auction.

Family Promise decided to do a virtual concert instead of Keep the Promise because of COVID-19 guidelines.

“You registered for free, but could give a donation,” Connolly said. The event was held on Dec. 5.

Family Promise also held a virtual auction that started on Nov. 23 and concluded on Dec. 7. All proceeds went to the Family Promise’s charitable drive, she said.

With the virtual auction and concert, the organization has surpassed its goal of $145,000.

Family Promise is always looking for donations to help people in homeless situations at www.familypromisemetrowest.org/donate/.

Sam Wayson, a senior communication arts major, said, “I’ve actually volunteered at a food drive before, and it was really interesting to see how it worked. Everyone there was super nice and cooperative with each other.

“It definitely felt good to know that what you were doing was going to have a positive impact on the less fortunate,” he added.

Cameron Duffy, a junior psychology major, said, “I think they [holiday fundraisers] are great, but they should also be emphasized year round rather than just on holidays.”

He added, “If everyone had the same sense of generosity as they do around Christmas, even more could be done to assist those who need aid.”

Ali Palladino, a senior earth science major, said, “I like food drives – not so much donations of large corporations cause they only do that for a tax write off.”

Brittany Beaudry, a senior psychology major, said, “I think that fundraising during the holiday season is very important, and it’s tragic to think during the pandemic that it’s dwindling down.”

Michaela Cronin, a senior communication arts major, said, “Community is more important now than ever because of the pandemic, and charity drives are a great way to help our neighbors this holiday season.”

Maddy Pimental, a senior communication arts major, said, “I truly believe that more people should donate to local organizations and they definitely don’t get enough credit.

“During these hard times, I think it’s important for communities to come together and help each other out because we’re all humans after all,” she added.