The Season of Giving: Helping those in need have happier holidays
Summer visitors think of Cape Cod and the Islands as the land of plenty—lots of great restaurants, a vibrant arts scene, endless natural beauty. But year-rounders know there is another side to the Cape, where the cost of living is higher than in other locales and too many jobs don’t pay enough to make ends meet.
Fortunately, folks on the Cape and Islands are resourceful, compassionate and generous, especially around the holidays. This time of year is a busy season for organizations dedicated to helping local residents through tough times. Those organizations count on the community to help ensure happier holidays for everyone, whatever challenges they may be facing.
The Lower Cape Outreach Council, an Orleans-based nonprofit founded in 1980, provides emergency help to those experiencing economic hardship. Volunteer caseworkers work with clients to determine what kind of assistance will make the most difference. It may be an oil delivery, help with a mortgage payment, covering a car repair, paying a medical expense or some other form of help. The organization also runs food pantries in each of the eight towns it serves, and operates a free clothing shop, Katy’s Korner, for clients.
Most recently, Lower Cape Outreach has begun offering help with jobs and job training, so that clients can build a better future, according to Executive Director Larry Marsland.
“We’re helping close to 2,000 households a year with food and, most importantly, emergency help, and now we are able to back it up with jobs and job training,” Marsland says. Providing aid now totaling $1,250,000 a year, LCOC relies on donations, particularly around the holidays.
Funding from its annual Gifts of Hope campaign enables the organization to deliver 700 Thanksgiving turkeys and set up its annual “Santa’s Stop,” a free holiday toy store for clients. For that effort, Lower Cape Outreach seeks donations of new toys plus gift cards for older children.
Marsland points out that although the economy has improved, many jobs on the Cape pay only minimum wage. “They can work but they can’t pay their bills,” he says of clients who turn to the Lower Cape Outreach Council for help.
Marsland is gratified by the strong community support the organization receives. “What impresses me and excites me every year is the number of individuals and clubs that come up with their own events to raise money for Gifts of Hope,” he says. “We could never do all that on our own.”
On Martha’s Vineyard, the Red Stocking Fund has been making life better for islanders in need since the late 1930s, when an island woman enlisted the help of friends to knit stockings to hold Christmas presents for needy children.
“They actually knitted stockings and put presents in them,” says Susie Wallo, co-chair of the nonprofit organization.
Although knitting is no longer involved, the Red Stocking Fund continues to provide new clothing and toys to children whose Christmas might otherwise be sparse. Children in the program—whose identities are kept confidential—receive pajamas, socks and underwear, hats, mittens or gloves, and other clothing according to need, plus a toy chosen from a wish list submitted by parents. In addition, “We make sure every child gets a book and some art supplies,” Wallo says. “Last year we helped about 350 kids have Christmas.”
The organization is run entirely by volunteers and relies on donations from local businesses and individuals. “We do not advertise, we don’t do social media,” Wallo says. “We’re very grassroots.”
Although it does not do any fundraising events, the Red Stocking Fund is the grateful recipient of proceeds from the Christmas in Edgartown Chowder Contest, WMVY’s annual Big Chili Contest in March, and the MV Harley Riders November toys for tots ride.
“The Island community is incredibly generous in many, many ways, all throughout the year. Because we are an island, we really do need to take care of one another, and we do,” says Sandy Joyce, who co-chairs the Red Stocking Fund with Wallo. “People donate money, toys, clothing, and give their time organizing, shopping and wrapping. We get amazing support from our local businesses. They do all this to be sure that the Island children in need during the holiday season have a Christmas, and really, at the end of the day, Islanders are always there for one another.”
Families often have to be convinced to sign their children up with the Red Stocking Fund, because “they are very proud,” Wallo says. “For the most part they are working people,” who just don’t make enough money to indulge at Christmastime. “The cost of living is so high here.”
The Family Pantry of Cape Cod, located in Harwich, sees the same thing. “Sixty-three percent of our clients have one if not two working members in the household,” says Family Pantry Director Christine Menard. “They’re working, but they can’t make enough money. We help bridge that gap.”
By providing groceries twice a month, the Family Pantry allows clients to pay for other necessities. “They can shift money to rent, clothing, utilities,” she says.
In addition to providing food year-round, the Family Pantry gives out around 500 turkeys with all the fixings over Thanksgiving, and distributes Christmas toys and gift cards to about 1,000 children.
The Family Pantry served over 9,200 clients in 2016 and this year is seeing an 18 percent increase in client visits to the pantry, Menard says.
On the Upper Cape, the Falmouth Service Center helps low-income residents of Falmouth, Mashpee and Otis Air National Guard Base. Deputy Director Kerin Delaney says the community is “incredibly supportive” of the center’s work, especially during the holidays. The nonprofit organization’s turkey drop-off day the Sunday before Thanksgiving is a great example of community generosity: “They just keep coming and coming, and some people drop off four or six turkeys,” she says.
People also donate fresh vegetables and other items for the Thanksgiving dinner baskets that the Falmouth Service Center distributes to more than 700 Falmouth residents. (The center limits its Thanksgiving distribution to Falmouth clients because it is such a huge undertaking.)
To help needy families have a merrier Christmas, Falmouth Service Center runs a toy drive, and the community gets involved with that as well. “People drop off brand-new toys, schools host toy drives, the police department and fire department hold drives,” Delaney says. “We’re very, very lucky we live in such a generous community.”
Lower Cape Outreach Council, Inc.
19 Brewster Cross Road, Orleans, MA 02653
508-240-0694 • lcoutreach.org • firstname.lastname@example.org
The Red Stocking Fund
P.O. Box 600, Edgartown, MA 02539 • 508-776-6050
The Family Pantry of Cape Cod
133 Queen Anne Road, Harwich, MA 02645
508-432-6519 • thefamilypantry.com
Falmouth Service Center
611 Gifford Street, Falmouth, MA 02541
508-548-2794 • falmouthservicecenter.org • email@example.com