MetroWest Daily News: Holiday helpers need some help

Rosalind Baker, director of Marlborough’s Human Services Department, has helped run the city’s Holiday Helper program for the past 11 years.

That means Baker, along with Peggy Ayres, processes applications from people who need a little help providing gifts for their children.

Ayres, an aide to state Sen. James Eldridge, D-Acton, and Baker have adjoining offices in the city’s Walker Building. And as it gets closer to Christmas and Hanukkah, these offices fill up with gifts to complete the many lists Baker and Ayres process.

But this year, Baker said, “I’m scared to death.”

“I’m really, really worried,” Ayres added.

“People don’t realize how bad it is,” Baker said, referring to the number of people who have to decide whether to pay their mortgage or pay for heat or food.

Last year, the organization received requests for a little more than 500 families. But this year, Baker and Ayres say they “expect the list to easily surpass 500.”

And, here’s the bad news – 300 applications do not have sponsors.

Ideally, Baker and Ayres seek sponsors to fill children’s requests – usually one sponsor takes one child. If the entire list can’t be filled, they hope to provide the child with at least one item he or she requested.

But both fear that goal may not be achieved this year.

Never have that many requests gone without sponsors this close to the holidays, Ayres said. To further increase her panic, churches and businesses have already taken applications to sponsor.

“Everyone’s doing what they can,” Ayres said. “We understand people can’t do as much because of the economy.”

So for those who feel they cannot sponsor a child this year, the Holiday Helper program welcomes contributions such as gift cards to the malls, restaurants or supermarkets; movie tickets for teenagers and diapers for babies.

Ayres suggested that several families could hold a bake sale or yard sale and donate the proceeds to Holiday Helpers.

As she flipped through the many requests, Ayres noted that practically all asked for warm clothing, including jackets, sweat pants, socks, hats, gloves, blankets and quilts.

“There are a lot of requests for warm winter clothing,” Ayres said.

There are also a lot of requests for “necessities for babies,” she added.

She held up a beautiful gift basket with essential items for a new baby girl.

Baker then unwrapped handmade dolls donated by the American Sewing Guild, which has a chapter in Marlborough. They also donated handmade quilts that Ayres said will be given to people who requested baby items.

And, of course, children always ask for toys. On the girls’ lists this year are Hannah Montana, any of the Disney princesses, Barbie and baby dolls. Boys are asking for Legos, cars and super heroes.

But don’t forget the teenagers, Ayers said. People often enjoy shopping for younger kids, but the teens need items, too.

All requests are from Marlborough residents with referrals coming from school nurses, the Marlborough Food Pantry, SMOC and the Department of Human Services.

Mark Assencoa, a Marlborough firefighter, said this year the city’s firefighters are donating their time to pick up and deliver items. As Baker was quick to add, the city’s Human Services Department runs the program, but “we can’t do it without volunteers like the firefighters.”

Ayres said Eldridge allows her to use his district office to process applications and store items. She said on the day after Thanksgiving she and state Rep. Danielle Gregoire, D-Marlborough, were in line at 5 a.m. to purchase “a trunk full” of pajamas that were on sale.

“There were a lot of requests for warm pajamas.”

So, anyone interested in sponsoring a child or even donating wrapping paper may contact Ayres at 508-786-3040 or Baker at 508-460-3739. Donations may be brought to either room 106 or 108 of the Walker Building. Please do not wrap the items, Ayres said, so parents may see them.

Baker and Ayres laughed as they recalled how “grumpy” they get as it gets closer to the holidays fearing they may not be able to fulfill everyone’s wishes.

But, Ayres said, “We get the best part because we see the families when they come to pick up (the items).”

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