By Christina Galeone
Once, two little boys – living in a motel with their dad – thought their dad was a superhero, recalled Julie Stanwood, president of the Northborough non-profit Friends of Families in Transition. She said the boys didn’t think he needed food, since he never seemed to eat. Ms. Stanwood said, “Dad would always feed his boys first and only eat what was left over.”
At St. Rose of Lima Parish in Northborough, many parishioners share the boys’ perspective. Aware that fighting poverty takes super strength, they’ve joined with homeless parents to help them fight for better lives for their families. They do so by regularly helping Friends of Families in Transition.
The parish’s dedication to the cause started around the beginning of 2012. It was then that Laurie Pardee, nurse/health leader and hotel liaison for Northborough and Southborough Public Schools, notified area churches that families were being housed, by the state, at local motels/hotels. Working with homeless families since 2003, Ms. Pardee was concerned and asked the community if they could help by providing transportation, food and warm clothing.
Fran Gill, the organizer of a monthly meal that St. Rose of Lima parishioners prepare for the families, said they began to meet with Ms. Pardee and other concerned groups. It “was through these meetings that Julie Stanwood and others formed FFIT, which continues to serve many needs of the homeless families – not just in Northborough – but in the surrounding towns as well,” said Ms. Gill. She added, “We are inspired to help others by the teachings and example of Jesus.”
Although the church doesn’t have a ministry dedicated to helping FFIT, that perfect guidance has led the parishioners to help in various ways. Ms. Gill said that in addition to donating money and goods, parishioners assist with transportation needs, as well as the delivery of food from the Northborough Food Pantry. Ms. Gill also organizes a monthly meal. With the help of about 24 parishioners, a hearty, nutritious meal is cooked, assembled and delivered to the families at the Econo Lodge in Northborough.
Ms. Stanwood said those meals are greatly appreciated. She said, “They provide not only the opportunity for families to have a warm, healthy meal, but they also provide a sense of comfort to the families. A sense that the community cares; the community does not judge, but that they simply want to … bring families the feeling that they are loved, cared about and important to our community.”
Recently, the parish’s fourth graders assembled toiletry bags for FFIT. Ms. Stanwood illustrated how much that means by sharing an experience she had when she brought groceries to a 6-year-old girl and her dad, who didn’t have any food.
“At one point, she started jumping up and down and excitedly showing her dad. I was so happy she had found my cookies,” recalled Ms. Stanwood. “She handed the ‘cookies’ to the dad, and he looked equally overjoyed. I said ‘I am so glad you like the treats.’ He said ‘Treats? No. She’s excited about the toothpaste … we have not had any in over a month and have been using the motel bar soap to brush our teeth.’”
But those are just a couple of the examples of why Ms. Stanwood said the church “has been an amazing supporter.”
“The congregation is always very generous when diaper or toiletry drives are needed, hosting collections at their Sunday services,” she said “Their social justice committee was quick to offer assistance during holidays to create special holiday treats for the children.”
She noted that other churches and individuals wanting to help can find more information on FFIT’s website, www.friendsoffit.org.
Even this past winter didn’t stop the church’s determination to continue to make a difference in the lives of their neighbors.
“The winter was tough on everyone, but if you think about being a single mother with two children, and you live in a single room with only a microwave and a small refrigerator, … can’t get to the store for food or diapers …,” said Ms. Gill. “Well, we can hardly complain about a little snow.”
And as Ms. Gill and other parishioners continue to fight the heroic battle against homelessness, they gain new insight.
“Personally, they have made me appreciate my own life, which has had few challenges …,” said Ms. Gill. “I have a lot of admiration for these families, whose stories we may never know, but who do the best they can with what little they have – living day by day, hoping and praying that someone will notice them and help them get back on their feet.”