TOWNSEND — For nearly four decades, the volunteers at Townsend Ecumenical Outreach have dedicated themselves to Ashby, Townsend and other nearby communities, delivering foodstuffs, clothing and other essentials to those in need.
In 2023, they plan to take that dedication to the next level.
TEO President Kym Craven said the northern Middlesex County nonprofit is here to foster a sense of “community” and help those in need, regardless of any one individual’s situation.
“The goal is just to lend a helping hand,” Craven said. “Whether you’ve been struggling or you’re suddenly dealing with a major change in life circumstances, we do our best to have the flexibility to help everyone and make the process as simple as possible.”
“This is a community program, eligibility is pretty flexible — if you need help, no matter where you’re at, we’re going to do our best to help you.”
As much as TEO volunteers already do for their communities, Craven said that she hoped to see TEO’s scope expand in the new year through what she called “greater community engagement.”
Greater participation on the part of TEO volunteers and officers in local events, she said, would not only bring in more volunteers, but could lead those in need to the proper resources to help them get back on their feet.
“One of the biggest things that we’re looking forward to is greater community engagement,” she said. “We want to be participating and involved in community events so people can learn about us and the services we offer.”
“Once the word is out, we hope that people either come forward to help their neighbor or because they need help and now they have the means to get it,” she said.
That expanded scope is also expected, at least in part, because of a substantial grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
On Jan. 3, TEO was awarded $130,000 by MassDEP, through the Massachusetts Gap III Energy Grant Program, to install a new 38.4kW solar panel system at the TEO warehouse on Bayberry Hill Road.
While the construction and implementation of said system could take the entirety of 2023, Craven said, once operational, it could save TEO as much as $17,000 per year in energy-related costs — and even more once the warehouse’s heating system is changed from oil to electric.
Of course, according to Craven, those savings would be passed on to TEO’s members, pumped back into the organization’s community programs and or used to launch new initiatives.
“Collectively, the board was excited,” she said of the award. “Each of us was just so happy to know that, once this project is complete, we’ll have more funding to pump into our communities and help those that are most in need.”
In the more immediate future, TEO has also used recently acquired state funds to purchase a van to aid in their food transportation. American Rescue Plan Act funding, directed to TEO from Townsend, is also expected to pay for the installation of a walk-in freezer in the warehouse, which would allow TEO members greater access to fresh foodstuffs.
Craven said those donations, among others made by private donors, other local organizations and the state, “bring the pieces of the puzzle together” and enable TEO to do what they do best both in the immediate future and long term.
“Every donation, they just bring the pieces of the puzzle together,” she said. “We can increase our support, be more flexible — it’ll just be a better experience for those that rely on us in the community.”
While those upgrades may expand their reach, Craven made it clear that it is the work of volunteers and those that contribute to TEO, financially or otherwise, that make the work they do possible.
She thanked those supporters, both for their trust in TEO and their willingness to aid the organization in its mission. She also said, without them, “[TEO] wouldn’t exist.”
“Without the support of individual community members, corporate donors, foundations that we work with, our local grocery stores, the state, our volunteers, we wouldn’t exist,” Craven said. “We are just so grateful that they put their trust in TEO and allow us to serve the community.”
Craven also urged those in need to reach out and stressed that, regardless of their situation, she and the others at TEO would do their best to engage and be of service to those in the community that need them most.
“Please don’t be afraid to come down or reach out, we are really open to all people,” she said. “And, if we don’t have the service you need, don’t be afraid to put the question forward — there’s always a way that we can figure something out.”
“I think it’s just important for people to understand that we’re really here for them. We’re all in this community together and, if you need help, we’ll find a way,” she said.
For more information on TEO, if you would like to volunteer or if you or someone you know is in need, visit their website at teo-ma.org or contact them at 978-877-6002 or firstname.lastname@example.org.