FITCHBURG — The spirit of giving was on full display in the city last week during the yearly tradition of distributing Thanksgiving baskets to dozens of families in the school district through a partnership with a local church.
City United Church has been donating Thanksgiving baskets to Fitchburg Public Schools for the last seven years. This year FPS collaborated with the Lunenburg church to raise funds to distribute 140 baskets filled to the brim with a box of mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, canned vegetables, dessert mix, and an oven pan for a turkey that recipients could purchase with an included gift card to a local grocery store.
FPS Family and Community Engagement Coordinator Luisa Fernandez was part of the crew who distributed the baskets first come, first served drive-thru style on Nov. 15 at South Street Elementary School. She said this year FPS “wanted to be part of the magic” and set up boxes in schools across the district to collect food and monetary donations.
“Each school in the district also does its part to bring joy during this celebration,” Fernandez said. “The different schools with the help of teachers, students, and staff members collect canned food and prepare baskets for some students and their families. Much of the preparation was done by members of the City United Church. We can’t thank them enough for their generosity and support for our families during the year.”
She said the distribution itself “was like a party,” with Christmas music playing, people cracking jokes and dancing.
“In short it was a wonderful event,” Fernandez said.
She even donned a turkey hat and was joined by other FPS staff including Superintendent Robert Jokela and several City United Church members.
“The families were so grateful and happy,” Fernandez said. “Our culture of inclusion makes this direct contact with families very valuable for us. Being able to shake hands with these people, exchange smiles, and show them that we care and that we are here for them makes a difference not only in our relationship but also in the way students perceive their school.”
“What an incredible day!” the church posted on social media the day after the baskets were distributed. “Because of your generosity, we were able to collect and distribute over 140 thanksgiving baskets to families in our community! Praise God! Our City Kids made some fun turkey hands to include as well! We are thankful for all of you that had a part in helping out with this giving project, and a special shout-out to Fitchburg Public Schools for your help in distributing the baskets.”
City United outreach efforts, led by Jessie Walters, also helped FPS students this past August by delivering 101 backpacks filled with school supplies. Walters is the City Kids Director at the church and has lived in Fitchburg for over 20 years, where their son attended elementary and middle school and now goes to Sizer.
She said she met Fernandez through the McKay Elementary School PTO when her son was a student there.
“It has been our joint passion to love on our community, especially those in need,” Walters shared. “City United Church has been blessed to be part of the FPS family by praying for our community, donating backpacks to students, and Thanksgiving Baskets for many years. We have many faithful members who have been part of this giving back opportunity. I have had the honor and privilege to work with these amazing church family members and have learned how to love on families and be there for them where they are.”
She said that as of Nov. 6 they only had enough donations to fill 15 Thanksgiving baskets. After an announcement was made that day, they had enough funds to fill 54 baskets and by the following day 125 baskets.
“Throughout the week, more donations came in that allowed us to go beyond that number,” Walters recalled. “Wow! Only God can do that.”
An army of church volunteers packed up the baskets two days before the distribution and then delivered them to the FPS central office the day of. Walters said vehicles were already lined up at 8:30 a.m. ahead of the 10 a.m. distribution start time and by 10:21 a.m., all the baskets were gone.
“Our team prayed for the families who would be receiving the baskets and began distributing,” Walters said. “It was such a blessing to work alongside FPS staff members who were also there to help with directing traffic, giving out pick up tickets, and serve our community with the distribution of these baskets. All hands-on deck helped with making this family outreach such a success and blessing to families. The best part was seeing the families so happy and thankful for the love shown. It is so awesome seeing God work in the hearts of people in our church family and community to meet the needs of others.”
“The reason we at City United do what we do is to step into our communities in hard times, struggles, and brokenness and be able to offer hope in challenging times as the light in the darkness,” Walters continued. “We are living in stressful economic times, and we are glad we can be a part of helping others find relief.
Fernandez said they were thrilled to be part of the community outreach effort and that when she saw the finished baskets in person, she was overcome with emotion.
“My heart was so happy that when the United church team opened their trunks I couldn’t hold back the tears,” Fernandez recalled. “It is extremely moving and inspiring for me to see the great social commitment of many organizations determined to help the community. That’s Fitchburg! I feel that collaborating with other organizations makes us stronger and we achieve better results. Knowing that we can count on partners who care about our students and families as much as we do motivates us to continue in this direction.”