SHIRLEY -- Many families have a shortage of funds this year, but when a charity that helps these families is also having money problems, it becomes a critical issue.

The Shirley Friendship Fund helps Shirley residents who have no other source of assistance. It provides a food basket and warm clothes for each child in the family. Toys are donated by local residents who take tags from one of the three giving trees in town. The Fund has giving trees at Fidelity Bank, which is also collecting food for the Fund, North Middlesex Bank, and St. Anthony's Church.

The Fund has served 75 families with food baskets and gifts. After the holidays, the Friendship Fund helped many more families with checks of $250 toward their rent, utilities, or medicine.

The Fund's checking account is running low, even with the great donations from area businesses. This year it is helping 35 families with food baskets and clothes for their children, and the money is running out.

The Fund will accept donations of any size -- money, gifts, food, or gift cards. Families also need paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning products, and personal care products.

Contact Heidi Conley at 978-425-9681 or mail donations to P.O. Box 564, Shirley, MA 01464. All donations are tax deductible.