Pandemic notwithstanding, dozens of donors step up to help hundreds of children through holiday program

Courtesy photo Volunteers unload some of the hundreds of gifts that arrived at the Courtyard by Marriott to be distributed to the estimated 500 children who were assisted by the Front Door Agency's annual holiday gift program this year. (Courtesy photo)

NASHUA – When local schools went to virtual learning this fall, Michelle, a single mom whose five children range in age from 2 to 17, had no choice but to leave her job so she could be with them and help them with their schoolwork.

It wasn’t long before Michelle was struggling to make ends meet, and the approach of the holiday season only magnified the challenges she was facing. Running out of options, Michelle turned to Nashua’s Front Door Agency, the Nashua-based nonprofit that offers services and programs to help Greater Nashua families in crisis become self-sufficient.

“Thank God for this,” Michelle said, referring to the agency and its holiday program. “It’s been a hard year for all of us. I never would have been able to make Christmas special on my own.”

Roughly 500 children in need had their holiday wish lists fulfilled this year by hundreds of donors, a combination of individuals and groups from 84 organizations who “adopted” families in need.

The “adopters” together donated nearly $100,000 worth of toys, warm clothing and groceries to more than 215 families, according to the agency.

Chiefly due to the pandemic, the Front Door Agency “saw an overwhelming number of single mothers register for assistance through this year’s holiday program,” CEO Maryse Wirbal said.

“Many parents in Greater Nashua have lost their jobs because of COVID-19 and others are working reduced hours to accommodate their childrenís remote learning schedules. These families are struggling to make ends meet. Our Holiday Program relieves the financial pressure of the holidays and provides a sense of joy and normalcy for children in need, Wirbal said.

“Thanks to the generous individuals, organizations and businesses in Greater Nashua that provided gifts this year, these families will have something to look forward to on Christmas Day,” she added.

Wirbal noted that the pandemic prompted program organizers to adjust drop-off and pick up procedures and enact social-distancing guidelines for donors, volunteers and recipients alike.

This is the fourth consecutive year that the Courtyard by Marriott and its owner, the Roedel Companies, provided space where volunteers could collect and sort the gifts, Wirbal said.

Hotel general manager Greg Geddes said the company deems it “our pleasure to partner with the Front Door Agency to provide space to host their annual holiday program.”

He said a “common thread” that runs “throughout the Roedel Companies … connects us all by our core values, one of which is investing in the communities we serve.”

Meanwhile, local employees of BAE Systems donated gifts that filled a large box truck, enough to fulfill the wish lists of 175 children, the agency said.

The Rotary Club of Nashua West, in addition to providing gifts for 50 children this year, used funds originally earmarked for its holiday party to create gift baskets of household necessities and grocery store gift cards for each of the families.

The holiday program also receives support from the Nashua Telegraph United Way Santa Fund.

For more information and how to donate to the Santa Fund, go to tinyurl.com/santafund2020.

Dean Shalhoup may be reached at 594-1256 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.