SHIRLEY -- Last year, Ann Towne, Patty MacDonald, and Frank Esielionis started an offshoot of the Shirley Friendship Fund, a small, all-volunteer community group that helps Shirley families during Christmas time and when emergencies arise throughout the year.

Their new venture, the Community Assistance Collaboration, is now a separate entity with a similar mission, but with a focus on serving the Shirley senior population.

Thanks to underwriting provided by Brian Anderson, funeral director for Anderson Family Funeral Homes of Ayer and Townsend, the group is able to provide a bag of goodies and valuable outreach information to every Shirley resident age 80 and older each December.

"Last year we had about 35 volunteers deliver bags to 200 seniors," said Towne at the fourth annual charitable pie sale at St. Anthony's church in Shirley on Nov. 20.

This year, all proceeds from the pie sale, estimated to be about $1,000, are going to the CAC to underwrite the cost of food delivery to shut-in seniors, veterans, and handicapped citizens, and to provide bridge funding for fuel assistance, utilities, and other necessary expenses.

Not one to sit on her laurels, last year Towne began to investigate other funding sources that would keep the new charitable initiative going and build its sustainability. In 2011, she applied for and received a $5,000 grant from the Greater Lowell Community Foundation for the CAC program.


She, MacDonald, and Esielionis also recently received the blessing of the Shirley Board of Selectmen to use the 2011 interest earned by the Winslow Trust Fund -- $6,186 -- for the CAC in 2013. Those funds, to be held and distributed by the Shirley Charitable Foundation, will be used for the first mobile food pantry for Loaves & Fishes.

Towne and MacDonald said that they work closely with the Shirley Charitable Foundation, Loaves & Fishes, the Shirley Friendship Fund, and the Shirley Council on Aging Senior Outreach Coordinator.

Towne is currently working with students in the Lura A. White Elementary School Adopt-A-Grandparent program, run by LAW Extended-Day Program Director Susan Noll, to decorate each of the 200-plus bags for seniors by hand. Meanwhile, Ayer-Shirley Regional Middle School art teacher Elaine Nogueira is working with her students to create decorative holiday magnets for each recipient.

"We call ourselves Santa's elves," said Towne of all of the volunteers.

Some of those elves will be dropping off their decorative bags for seniors at the Shirley Senior Center today, after which time they will need help with distribution, not just in Shirley, but also in nearby towns in which Shirley residents reside in nursing facilities.

For information on the CAC or to volunteer to be an elf and deliver bags to Shirley seniors, contact Ann Towne at or 978-425-9131, or Patty MacDonald at or 978-425-4779.