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SHIRLEY — Shirley Friendship Fund Co-chairwomen Heidi Conley and Linda Brackett, with help from high-school sophomore Dana Hopf, recently sorted through bags and boxes of brownie mix, jelly, and peanut butter in preparation for their annual pre-Christmas food and gift basket distribution for local families in need.

“This year we are preparing 55 baskets –15 more than last year, and the most we have ever had requested,” said Conley.

The Bull Run Restaurant has donated 40 turkeys, but the fund is still in need of baked beans, hot cocoa mix, breakfast cereals, brownie mix, cranberry sauce, and jelly (no glass jars, please). “We will gladly pick up donations,” said Brackett. “Anyone who wants to donate can call me or Heidi.”

Besides food baskets, the friendship fund provides much-needed children’s clothing for families who may otherwise not be able to afford new seasonal wear. Not long ago, the trio pored over all of its applications for aid, made lists of the names, ages, and sizes of each applicant’s children, and solicited the aid of “mystery” shoppers who will purchase and gift wrap garments for distribution. The items will be placed in colorful holiday bags to accompany the food baskets, which provide enough food for at least two meals.

Last year, the friendship fund also distributed 103 gift bags to senior citizens for the holidays. Now, with the help of volunteers Ann Towne, Patty McDonald, and Frank Esielionis, all 200 Shirley residents over the age of 80 will be receiving something special.

The Shirley Friendship Fund and its new “senior” division raise the money needed to help others through private and local business donations, as well as fundraisers.

Local residents can also give to the Shirley Friendship Fund via one of the three giving trees located at St. Anthony’s, Fidelity Bank, or North Middlesex Savings Bank in Shirley.

The younger generation is also lending a hand. Towne is working with students involved in the Lura A. White Elementary School Adopt-a-Grandparent program to hand decorate the gift bags for Shirley’s oldest seniors.

The Shirley Children’s Traveling Christmas Choir, under the direction of Meredith Marcinkewicz, will be putting on its annual benefit concert at the Bull Run Restaurant on Sunday, Dec. 18, at 1 p.m. Reservations are suggested and may be made by phoning the restaurant at 978-425-4311.

At a recent rehearsal for the concert, second-year choir member Makenzie Wilson said that she wanted to be in the choir again this year because it is fun. “Since last year, the music has sort of gotten into me and I want to do it again and again!”

Although the friendship fund has only a few core members, it depends on many good Samaritans to help families in Shirley every year. Some of them are Pat Henry, Sue Sievers, Sandy Wixom, Margie Marcinkewicz, and Hopf, but there are many others, and one of them might be you.

To help make the holidays merrier for families in your community, contact Brackett at 978-425-9560, or Conley, 425-9681. Basket and gift distributions will take place the week of Dec. 19.

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