Some local food pantries and nonprofits have been reporting an increase in need this year, especially from families with young kids. High housing and utility costs are just a few of the reasons some young families struggle.
WCAI’s Kathryn Eident visited the Falmouth Service Center to learn more about how this local food pantry uses food, and toys, to help Cape Codders find comfort and joy now, and after the holiday season.
The Service Center is bustling this mid-December day; clients are busy choosing from an array of fresh foods, breads and meats in the pantry out front. In a side room, two nurses help clients with diabetes check their glucose and talk with them about healthy food choices. Out back, volunteers are helping to keep a variety of programs running smoothly. One of those programs involves toys. Lots of them. Falmouth Service Center Executive Director Brenda Swain takes me on a tour.
“We’re in the midst of sorting what was left over from last year,” she said, as we wound our way through shelves of food and volunteers. We’re barely past Thanksgiving, and Swain’s mind has moved from feasting, to giving.
“As soon as we stop with turkeys, we start with toys,” she said. “So this amazing crew of people, along with lots of other folks, have been working to organize, sort, and get ready for what’s going to happen here on the the twenty-first.”
What’s going to happen is this huge warehouse of food will transform into a toy store, with holiday lights, decorations, and elves, or volunteers,who act as personal shoppers to help clients choose the perfect toys for their children.
“It’s like FAO shwartz around here,” Swain said.
More than 600 people volunteer each year according to Swain, with dozens working on the toy drive alone. In turn, they help an equal number of families put something under their tree.
The work includes sorting through toys left over from last year and processing new donations into categories for boys and girls, then categories by age. The toy operation is so big, it spans multiple rooms in the Service Center.
In the basement, volunteer Lee Davis is unpacking stocking stuffers she’ll bundle up for boys aged 3 to 5. She is surrounded by bins of toys.
Parents will receive a pre-filled stocking with age-appropriate toys. Then, parents can pick gifts for each child with the help of a personal “shopper” or, as some call them, an “elf.”
“All the gifts we give at this time of year are brand new,” Swain said. “Because, it’s so important when children are opening those gifts, that they have something new, too.”
Swain says the toys serve a dual purpose.
“The holidays are supposed to be a joyous time,” she said. “But if you are struggling to pay your bills, or someone in your house is ill, or you may have found out your hours are being cut. So we, with the community’s help, can provide that support to the parents to give gifts to their children, so they can use those dollars they would have spent on these presents…to keep their families going.”
The center has traditionally served just families in Falmouth; this year, they will serve families from Mashpee, too—more than 600 when the holiday is through.
“We just want families to feel safe and get the support and the help they need,” she said.
The Falmouth Service Center is accepting new toys for kids of all ages through December 14 2018.