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Natick - Local Town Pages

The Giving Season

By Sean Sullivan
Autumn is harvest season, and for many local aid organizations, that means gathering as much inventory as possible as a bulwark against cold weeks to come.
On the cusp of winter, residents struggling materially seek to stock up on necessities for days when light grows scarce and months seem to linger. Food with a formidable shelf life, warm clothing to weather New England winter, etc.


And by extension, the organizations dedicated to offering aid also work harder to fill and maintain the food pantries and coffers that fuel their outreach and assistance.   
Now that those heady days of Covid seem further in the rearview, there seems a sense that the need for public assistance has receded apace. Yet most of the pandemic programs that bolstered so many people in 2020 and 2021 have expired. Policies slashed child poverty by more than half, for instance, but those gains are losing ground now that suchprograms haven’t been renewed.  


“You would think things have been doing better,” said Tina Noonan. She is director of development and outreach for the Natick Service Council. The organization has become a staple in the town for people and families in need, offering a wide range of tangibles and services to neighbors working through difficult circumstances.
“It’s been really challenging. We’re seeing more people coming through the door.”
In response, Natick Service Council has lengthened the time that patrons can shop during food pantry appointments.
“I’ve also noticed that more people are applying,” said Noonan, referring to the number of aid organizations vying for donations to fund their operations. “The pool is getting bigger,” she added, meaning there’s less to go around.
Groups like the Natick Service Council are buoyed by fundraising drives, grants and individual donors of food, clothing and financial gifts. Since 2020, said Noonan, the NSC has seen a drop in donations.
“Since Covid, we’ve had to purchase more food.”
About 80 percent of the NSC’s pantry stores come from individual donors, she said, adding that such giving has declined somewhat in months since Covid. That may owe, in part, to that broadening pool of organizations seeking aid, which of course is a reflection of the population in need of such services.
If individuals and groups are looking to bolster shelves at the Natick Service Council, or any other of the many local aid groups doing similar work, the NSC’s Ali Griffin has recs. She manages the organization’s food pantry.
Canned and non-perishable food of all varieties are encouraged. Children’s breakfast cereals of all sorts are in demand. Flour, soup, Bouillon cubes, black tea and Cheerios were singled out by name as ranking high on the list of what’s needed. With the colder months drawing ever closer, warm clothing of all kinds is much appreciated. Monetary donations are, of course, accepted and put to good use.
The steep and seemingly incessant rise in housing costs is another culprit putting more pressure on groups like the Natick Service Council.
“Rents are going up in Natick,” said Noonan. And that increase means there’s less money for other necessities – food, clothing, fuel, etc.
Early autumn, she said, is a critical time for residents at risk of not being able to afford utility bills. If the service is required to heat a residence, then utility providers in certain instances are prohibited from shutting off that service between Nov. 15th and Mar. 15th.
As a result, a fleet of cancellation notices are often launched in the months just prior to that protected grace period, landing in the mailboxes of already financially-precarious people.
If aid organizations like the NSC can help pay those utility bills, at-risk residents can keep the heat and lights on during winter. Failing that, a stack of unpaid utility bills can become another entry point in a material downward spiral that’s ever more difficult to escape.
“A lot of the challenges that our clients face are intertwined,” said Noonan. “So, what we do is try to help them out on all levels.”
That means addressing deprivation in all its many and mutually-injurious forms. Not being able to afford a suit or professional attire can hurt an applicant’s prospects during an interview and on the job. A lack of funds for fuel and/or car repairs can mean the loss of a job. Being short on school supplies can arrest a child’s progress and potential. And so on it goes.  
“Our goal is self-sustainability,” said Noonan.

Courtesy photos by Sara Sniderman Photography