Greenfield Health Department, ServiceNet arrange toy drive 

Meg Tudryn, public heatlh nurse for the city of Greenfield, with toys collected for local families.

Meg Tudryn, public heatlh nurse for the city of Greenfield, with toys collected for local families. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer

Published: 12-04-2023 2:10 PM

GREENFIELD — The holiday season has arrived, and with it comes the spirit of giving.

In an effort to help some of the city’s most vulnerable families, ServiceNet has partnered with the city’s Health Department to host a toy drive for the 45 families at the Days Inn on Colrain Road, as well as for the 16 families housed at the Greenfield Family Inn on Federal Street and at other sites scattered throughout the city. The toy drive also will benefit REACH, ServiceNet’s early childhood intervention program.

Amy Timmins, vice president of community relations at ServiceNet, said the idea for a toy drive grew out of conversations with members of the Health Department, which previously was the drop-off location for clothing for families in the shelter system.

“When we were collecting clothing here at the Health Department, families would come in and go through some of the things here and we met the kids,” said Public Health Nurse Meg Tudryn. “They were so sweet and so happy with everything we gave them. We don’t have a lot here but they were over the moon with anything we gave them. We just wanted to do something to help them.”

Toys, which should be new and unwrapped, can be dropped off at the Health Department, located in room 205 at 20 Sanderson St., or ordered through ServiceNet’s Amazon Wishlist online at tinyurl.com/ServiceNetWishlist. Donations will be accepted through Dec. 20.

Amy Diehl, director of communications and development at ServiceNet, said the agency previously organized a “giving tree” as a way for staff and community members to support the families ServiceNet works with.

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“It’s a time where children are at a difficult transitional period,” Diehl said. “We were already looking to expand [the giving tree], so it was wonderful when the Health Department reached out.”

According to Diehl and Timmins, the need is especially great this year, given the increased number of families in the shelter system. Over the summer, Greenfield Mayor Roxann Wedegartner was notified by Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll and the state Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities that, due to a “critical shortage” of affordable housing in the state, families with children would be provided emergency shelter at the Days Inn in Greenfield.

Of the 45 families who arrived at the hotel, about 55% are Haitian refugees, according to Marisa Perez, who is overseeing the emergency shelter at the Days Inn. Of those, about half came directly from Boston. Others were stationed for a few years in other countries, including Chile and Mexico, before finding their way to the United States. Other families immigrated from Colombia, Jamaica and Africa, and some are Massachusetts residents.

Diehl said across the system in Greenfield, there are 14 newborns and 40 children between the ages of 1 and 5 years. In total, there are about 112 children, many of whom are pre-teens.

Suggested donations include educational toys, art supplies, rattles, stuffed animals, board books and activity books, Magna Tiles and other building toys. Throw blankets are also suggested. In general, smaller items are recommended, as space is limited, according to Tudryn. For teenagers, in particular, gift cards to local businesses, including Big Y, are encouraged. Toys with a likeness to guns, however, are strongly discouraged, given the circumstances faced by some of these families.

“For me, [organizing this] is a joy,” Diehl said. “The hardest part is stopping myself from buying the whole list. Knowing how it’s going to be used and … putting a smile on a child’s face during a time of transition is really gratifying.”

Cold weather clothing, non-perishable foods needed

According to Timmins, the greatest need for families at the Days Inn is warm clothing, while the families in the Greenfield Family Inn program would benefit most from non-perishable food items.

New or gently-used clothing items can be dropped off at the United Way of Franklin County at 51 Davis St. In the past, members of the Health Department, which was previously collecting the clothing donations, have emphasized the need for these items to be in good shape, as many donations it received were unsuitable for distribution. Clothing can be brought to the United Way on the first and third Friday of the month, Timmins said.

“This is the first winter in the cold for these families,” she said. “Warm stuff is always welcome.”

Items will likely be transported from Davis Street to the hotel, where they will be distributed to families through its “free store.”

Non-perishable food products, meanwhile, can be dropped off directly at the Greenfield Family Inn at 128 Federal Street.

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.